Exactly one year after the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled its report finding use of force abuses in Chicago, and more than two years after the video of Laquan McDonald was released, the city is again on the brink of a number of key changes in its police accountability structure.
In the coming weeks and months, Chicago will have new heads at two of its police oversight bodies, a long-awaited proposal on a community oversight board, a trove of public data to illuminate the inner workings of the Chicago Police Department, and a new unit inside the superintendent’s office dedicated to reform efforts. Stakeholders say there’s still much work to be done.
On Jan. 13, 2017, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the DOJ’s 13-month investigation found CPD engaged in a pattern of using force that violated the Fourth Amendment. Investigators outlined systemic deficiencies in training and accountability, and a failure to conduct meaningful use of force investigations.
The city is still without a court-monitored consent decree. Both the City Bureau and Invisible Institute’s Task Force Tracker and the Chicago Reporter’s DOJ Tracker show many key reform recommendations incomplete.
“It feels like momentum was lost and we’re rolling backward,” Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) said.
Lacking pressure from the Trump DOJ, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she would sue the city to force reforms. She and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are in active–but secretive–negotiations in the last months of her administration to reach an agreement.
The past year brought significant change. The police department is in the midst of a hiring blitz, seeking to add 1,000 officers to the streets and keep up with attrition. The department issued new use of force guidelines with input from the public, and expanded crime-fighting technology in districts with the most violence.
The Fraternal Order of Police has a new president. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability launched in September, with new staff, a bigger budget, and a broader mandate. Aldermen confirmed the city’s first Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety, and kicked off the first steps in construction of a new police academy.
While the reform debate has hovered over the city for years, Chicago is only in its first stages of a long haul.
“What I think has evolved in the course of the year is a deepening understanding by CPD and the administration that a check-the-box approach to the recommendations of the DOJ and the task force do not win the day,” Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson said. “They may win press cycles, but ultimately, this is a complex, holistic undertaking. I am seeing signs of their appreciation of that.”
Five stories have begun to take shape on policing reform efforts in 2018, and insight from those with the most at stake may reveal the next chapter in the fight for accountability across the state.
Pressure for consent decree mounts as three pending lawsuits roil in the courts
Frustrated with the pace and secrecy of reforms, victims of police misconduct and reform advocates filed two separate suits against the city in 2017. City lawyers moved to dismiss both. While negotiations continue with the state, both groups say they want a seat at the negotiating table.
Victims alleging police misconduct and a coalition of community groups including Black Lives Matter Chicago and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council filed the first suit in federal court in June 2017.
Campbell v. City of Chicago was a class action suit on behalf of all citizens in Chicago. It asked the court to enjoin “the CPD from its policy, practice and/or custom of excessive use of force,” and using force “in a racially discriminatory manner.” It called for an independent, diverse monitoring team with “unfettered access” to police data.
Attorneys from Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP representing the city said the plaintiffs’ arguments were moot “in light of CPD’s extensive, ongoing reform efforts.” Past allegations of police misconduct dating back to the 1960s were “redundant, immaterial, and incendiary.”
The next major case update is Jan. 16, according to Craig Futterman, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “Then the court rules about this case going forward and in what form it goes forward.”
Weeks after the Campbell suit was filed, Madigan announced her office would sue “to ensure the City enacts comprehensive, lasting reform of the Chicago Police Department.”
Mayor Emanuel and Supt. Eddie Johnson, standing with Madigan at the August press conference, described it as a “partnership.” In the four months since the announcement, neither side has offered updates on negotiations, but a joint status report filed in October sheds some light.
Since August, the Attorney General’s office has dedicated eight of its own staff and 12 pro bono attorneys from Robins Kaplan LLP to work on negotiations and discovery.
“The City has similarly dedicated a significant amount of resources to this matter, including outside counsel and experts along with dedicated CPD staff and resources,” the report reads.
Madigan’s office embarked on its own investigation, reviewing 5,000 documents, riding along with officers, and retaining at least five independent experts in use of force, training and accountability. Investigators also visited the CPD training academy, spoke with “numerous community and advocacy groups interested in police reform issues,” and sat down with members of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“I don’t have more of an update outside of what was in the status report, other than to say negotiations are ongoing,” said Maura Possley with the attorney general’s office. Officials with the city’s law department and the mayor’s office similarly declined to comment.
Ferguson said the attorney general’s office is doing its own digging, going beyond the findings in the task force and DOJ investigation.
“To be truly responsible in working toward negotiations and outcomes for a consent decree, there was a lot of research and understanding they needed to do beneath the surface of the public documents,” he said.
“We’ve spent a good amount of time with the folks from the Illinois AG’s office, most typically in the context of educating them with history, data, and information,” he said. “Their hope is to have something in the public domain, fully negotiated with the city sometime in the later part of the summer or early fall. But again, that’s a complicated and dynamic process.”
Futterman said Madigan’s team has asked what they would like to see in a consent decree, but the ask falls short. His clients want a seat at the table.
“The people who have been impacted by police violence–community based organizations who have stepped up–stand ready to negotiate a consent decree with the city,” he said. “We still are outside looking in.”
The ACLU of Illinois also filed a suit against the city in October 2017 with a coalition of community organizations and disability advocacy groups. The suit focused on CPD’s failure to address police encounters with those who are physically and mentally disabled.
“Black and Latino people with disabilities face a double burden: the increased contacts with the police department and the fear of excessive force because of their disability,” the ACLU’s Karen Sheley said at an October press conference. The city moved to dismiss that case as well.
In a January phone call, Sheley said one of her ongoing concerns is a lack of movement on crisis intervention team (CIT) staffing. Results of ACLU freedom of information requests found CPD’s CIT unit had nine staff members in 2008. That dropped to three members by the end of 2016.
The city maintains it has increased CIT training for officers and employees at the city’s 911 call centers. In 2016, CIT-trained officers responded to 16,328 crisis intervention events, up from 3,862 in 2015.
That still falls far short of the demand for mental health response to emergencies, Sheley suggested. The PATF estimated the city’s emergency communications department fielded anywhere from 73,500 to 245,000 mental health-related calls in 2015.
“We’re concerned about progress being made on ensuring situations like Quintonio Legrier and Bettie Jones’ doesn’t happen again,” Sheley said. More training is an improvement, she said, but the city must audit to ensure training is effective. “It’s a very large, very serious problem of ensuring officers have tools they need for interacting with people with disabilities.”
COPA Still Searching for Leader in Wake of Fairley Departure
A revamped civilian investigative agency entered the new year with a full plate, and without a permanent leader. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability launched in September. The agency handles misconduct complaints and investigations into police-involved shootings and use of force. Less than a month after the launch, COPA leader Sharon Fairley announced she would step down to run for Illinois Attorney General.
Fairley helmed COPA’s predecessor agency, the Independent Police Review Authority, since December of 2015.
The city has quietly released a job opening for her permanent replacement. Applications are due at the end of January.
The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) warned against “making hasty permanent decisions” after Fairley’s exit. GAPA is a grassroots coalition tasked with proposing the framework for a community oversight body. That body would potentially choose COPA’s leader.
In November, the mayor formed a 20-member search committee composed of “advocacy leaders, members of the COPA Advisory Council, faith leaders, academics and attorneys” to find a permanent chief administrator. Retired judge Patricia Banks serves as Interim Chief Administrator of the agency.
“The GAPA folks specifically asked the mayor’s office not to convene a [community oversight] board until they finished their process,” said Lori Lightfoot. Lightfoot chaired the Police Accountability Task Force, now disbanded, and is the Police Board President. In the absence of a community oversight board, COPA leadership couldn’t wait, and Lightfoot and Fairley both agree the committee is a good solution.
“It’s very diverse in every way you can measure diversity and it’s a got lot of really good, thoughtful people,” Lightfoot said.
Public Safety Chair Ariel Reboyras (30), Illinois Justice Project Director Paula Wolff, and Foley & Lardner LLP partner Zaldwaynaka (Z) Scott lead the committee. The mayor will pick an appointee from a list the committee generates, and City Council would confirm.
“We’re still working on the head of COPA. It’s very, very crucial that we continue this and complete it in a timely manner,” Reboyras said of the search.
“Courage to be independent” is the most important requirement for her successor, Fairley said. That leader also needs legal expertise, and leadership skills to “lead the agency toward a common mission and vision, the ability to deal with policy issues, to have a good working relationship with CPD but also provide candid and in-depth feedback.”
If elected as attorney general, Fairley would be tasked with overseeing the negotiated consent decree with the city.
In the meantime, the agency has plenty of work. It logged 38 incidents from the police department in 2017–28 involved a firearm discharge, eight regarding other uses of force, and two taser discharges. It must investigate those incidents, plus complaints from citizens on improper search or seizure, unlawful denial of access to counsel, domestic violence, excessive force, coercion, or verbal abuse from officers.
Community Oversight Board Weeks Away from Releasing Pitch
A prominent missing piece of the promised accountability bodies is a community oversight board, aimed to help bridge the gap between the police and the policed. West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29), a former police officer, said the Mayor’s reforms were like a “two legged stool” without a community board.
The task force recommended the board have the power to select the head of COPA, request specific audits from the inspector general and data from CPD and oversight agencies. Exactly how that agency would be convened has been a major hurdle for organizers.
Community representatives from GAPA have met with aldermen in recent weeks to discuss a final framework. Sources say it will be inspired by similar boards in Seattle, Cincinnati and Los Angeles.
Some advocates, including Futterman, have insisted such a body have the power to guide CPD policy-making and have a hand in selecting the superintendent. That increased power is part of ongoing conversations with aldermen and stakeholders.
“What they’re contemplating is a significant shift in where power and authority lay with CPD,” Ferguson said.
GAPA has led a community effort to form the board since the summer of 2016, but release of a final proposal has been repeatedly delayed. The group released a “Citywide Community Conversations” report in March of 2017, with comments from 19 meetings and interviews with more than 1,650 residents, but little else since then.
According to Delmarie Cobb, a spokesperson for the group, it is “very close to finishing and close to making a major announcement within the next two or three weeks.”
Lightfoot said such a board is likely part of negotiations with the attorney general as well. “Having this body has become standard fare in consent decrees, at least in the Obama era. I can’t imagine they’re going to back away from requiring something like that.”
Inspector General Soon to Lose Public Safety Deputy as it Launches First Audits, Data Projects
Resigning just six months after taking office, the Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Laura Kunard leaves another empty spot in the city’s accountability structure. The inspector general announced she would depart for her old job at CNA, a non-profit research organization that works on policing initiatives for the DOJ. Now, as the section releases its first major trove of projects, it will have to restart a leadership search.
The inspector general must now “engage a nationally recognized organization with expertise in government oversight” to perform a nationwide search. Ferguson will then select and nominate a candidate for City Council approval, a process which could take months. The new leader would oversee audits into whether discipline is applied consistently in CPD and COPA investigations, policy and training recommendations, and community engagement.
To outsiders, the section might appear dormant. It hasn’t released any information since a February 2017 update, a static report on CPD staffing. But Ferguson pledges the office has been steadily gearing up since the past summer, and is releasing its first products in the coming weeks.
While she was confirmed in April of 2017, Kunard didn’t start officially in the position until late June. PSIG, as staffers call it, then had to hire and train 20 new auditors and begin community engagement efforts.
“A lot has been going on, but we’re very cognizant of the fact that we are not–except for our community outreach and relationship building–public facing,” Ferguson said.
One of the upcoming projects is policy-oriented, and one is operations and audit-based, he said. A third is a live data project building on PSIG’s last report on sworn CPD personnel.
He called the project “a game changing transparency function and capacity for the public, for CPD, for the administration, and for the AG’s office.” It will include user-friendly dashboards on CPD’s composition, workforce, and activities.
“We’re putting it forward in a way that anybody or their uncle, their great uncle, could actually understand what the data means,” he said. “This is something never seen in the city of Chicago, and not much seen in the United States, to be honest.”
Union President: Only One ‘Meet and Greet’ Held on FOP Negotiations
The mayor and Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7 leadership have met just once since the lodge’s contract expired on June 30, according to the organization’s president.
“The reality is we’ve had one meet and greet,” FOP President Kevin Graham said. “The city has yet to tender a single proposal to us.”
A spokesperson with the city’s Law Department said it doesn’t discuss contract negotiations in the press, and could not confirm whether there had only been one meeting with Graham.
“It says that the city is very cautious about where they want to go with us. I know that they’re looking for changes in discipline,” Graham said.
The FOP has since filed several grievances related to reform initiatives, arguing they should have been negotiated. The union has largely prevailed.
In November, the FOP won a ruling over the department’s use of a “disciplinary matrix” to offer standardized punishments for complaints registered against officers. Last week, an administrative judge likewise ruled the city failed to bargain with the FOP when it expanded its body camera program.
The union also filed a petition to stop implementation of the city’s new use of force policy. This week, Graham asked the inspector general to investigate COPA, arguing “there is compelling evidence that members of COPA are leaking information on confidential investigations to reporters.”
While rulings must be adopted by the state Labor Relations Board to take full effect, they show, as Graham has promised, that the union is fighting to protect its members.
While Graham said he is seeking fairness and due process for officers, police reform advocates cite the FOP contract and grievance filings as one of the city’s biggest roadblocks to lasting change.
“They have clearly decided their strategy is going to be to fight everything,” Lightfoot said.
Compounding the problem is silence from the city on its priorities in the contract. “No one should have an expectation the city is going to negotiate in public, but some explanation of values and priorities makes some sense. All we have right now is radio silence,” said Lightfoot.
“We need to keep our attention on it,” the ACLU of Illinois’ Karen Sheley said. “We’re settling cases where they can’t even look at the officers’ behavior,” Sheley continued. “Other provisions in the contract are just as serious.”
“Even though I have been critical of individuals, I want to try and work with people to make sure that people are treated fairly, whether citizens or police officers,” Graham said. “That’s how you have real reform and real changes.”