Some Chicago Police Department officials and a West Side alderman are confident that police reforms recommended by the federal goverment in the waning days of the Obama administration will still be carried out in Chicago — despite the recent election of a President of the United States and a president of the local police union who are both openly hostile to such reforms.
In the final week of the Obama administration, the U.S. Justice Department issued a report finding a pattern of unconstitutional practices, as well as insufficient training and issues with supervision and promotions, within the Chicago Police Department
The report recommended a number of possible reforms, some of which had already been implemented by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Superintendent Eddie Johnson during the Justice Department’s investigation.
Those reforms include the creation of a Civilian Office of Police Accountability to replace the controversial Independent Police Review Authority and the issuance of a transparency policy that requires the police to release videos and “other materials related to certain officer misconduct investigations,” according to a Justice Department statement released in January.
Since his election, Trump has appointed Jeff Sessions, who has spoken out against consent decrees, as the U.S. Attorney General. And two weeks ago, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the labor union representing CPD officers, elected several candidates, including one running for union president, from the Blue Voice 7 slate of candidates. The slate had pledged to take a harder stance against police reform efforts.
Some CPD officials and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), however, remain confident that reforms will happen even without the pressure from the top. In a recent interview, the West Side alderman said that he has faith that the city and the FOP will be able to negotiate without hurting the ongoing reform efforts.
Released in January, the Justice Department’s patterns and practices report found a pattern of use of force that not only violates people’s Fourth Amendment rights, but also puts officers themselves in unnecessary danger.
The report also described rampant discrimination and the “code of silence” as critical obstacles preventing officers from reporting misconduct, with many officers lacking sufficient training after leaving a police academy that federal officials said is saddled by outdated equipment and materials.
The Justice Department report recommended adopting a use of force policy that would reduce force as much as possible and put more emphasis on de-escalation and non-lethal methods of policing.
Federal officials also called for the police department to change the way it investigates officer-involved shootings so that it can prevent “collusion and the contamination of witnesses” and to revamp its training practices in order to improve community-police interactions, among other changes.
But even back when the report was released, there were concerns that the Trump administration wouldn’t pursue police reform the way the Obama administration had. Sessions, who was then a U.S Senator, spoke out against consent decrees.
In January, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said the reforms weren’t just the right thing to do; they were also financially sound.
“Over the last 10 years, we spent over $500 million settling cases [of police misconduct],” Ervin said. “Think of how many schools we could’ve built with that money, how many firefighters, how many police officers, how many teachers we could’ve hired?”
Eleventh District Commander Kevin Johnson said at the meeting that there must be a balance between ensuring accountability and allowing officers to be effective at their jobs.
“We need to change,” he said. “The way we do business isn’t going to work in the 21st century. We need to be accountable to the public; but, at the same time, you deserve safety.”
Steven Sesso, a police captain from the 11th District, said that better training was important for both new and experienced officers.
“Our new hires, new recruits, have a new training program,” he said. “The problem is, there’s no continuing training program. We don’t have the facility to handle it.”
At an April 11 community meeting in Garfield Park, Tina Skahill, CPD’s director of legal affairs, said that the department didn’t need federal government pressure to accomplish police reform, since superintendent Eddie Johnson was committed to it.
In an interview this month, Taliaferro said that he and the other aldermen were briefed about more reform initiatives that would be announced to the public in the coming weeks.
“Reform is not going to come overnight,” he said. “I’m encouraged just to see that our police department already initiated those reforms that were recommended by the Department of Justice.”
Whether or not the momentum that Taliaferro lauded continues could depend on the actions of a new factor that has emerged this month. On April 12, Kevin Graham won the FOP presidency during a run-off, beating incumbent president, Dean Angelo, 56 percent to 44 percent.
Several other candidates who ran on the Blue Voice 7 slate with Graham were also elected, including, Martin Preib, Graham’s 2nd vice president.
Although both Graham and Angelo campaigned on pushing back what they described as unfair attacks against the department, the Blue Voice slate took a stronger stance against recent reform efforts.
In a March 20 letter to FOP membership, Graham outlined the slate’s priorities. While most of them had to do with improving officers’ health and retirement benefits, they also included hiring a “full-time media specialist” to respond to “media attacks.” Graham stated that officers “will no longer be victimized by a biased anti-police media.”
In an earlier, Feb 21 letter, he vowed the the slate would fight against “new, unfair disciplinary procedures such as the disciplinary matrix the Department intends to implement” and pledged to “pursue fraudulent or unfair cases against our members by taking their accusers to the courts.”
In a few months, the FOP’s contract will expire and Graham pledged to stand tough in negotiating for the slate’s priorities.
“We look forward to immediately preparing for the upcoming contract negotiations, fighting the anti-police movement in the city and obtaining fair due process and discipline for our members,” Graham wrote in a Facebook statement after the election.
A day after Graham’s Facebook statement was posted, the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus, which includes all West Side aldermen, reiterated its support for a resolution they introduced in Feb. 22, calling on Mayor Emanuel to push for the removal of several controversial FOP contract provisions dealing with investigations of misconduct allegations, including one that allows officers to wait 24 hours after a officer-involved incidents before giving statements.
According to city documents, all West Side aldermen, including Ervin and Taliaferro, signed on as co-sponsors.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have good working relations in implementing some of those changes and that we’ll be able to sit down with the new FOP president and talk about upcoming contract negotiations,” said Taliaferro, who added that there’s difference between campaigning and negotiating.
Marshawn Feltus, a youth mentor with the Westside Health Authority, was among several people who tried to attend a 2015 community meeting in Austin that featured former CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy — only to be turned away. Fetus said he has mixed feelings about the proposed police reforms.
“I don’t think there’s enough accountability,” he said. “It’s probably not going to change very much. I think that’s something that needs to be under more scrutiny, so you have the community more informed.”
While Feltus doesn’t believe that the Trump administration would push for reforms, he said he’s still hopeful that some progress will happen.
“I don’t think those [reforms] should be undermined,” he said. “I think more reforms should be added in. It definitely shouldn’t be [pushed] under the table. I think those reforms need to be enforced.”