After weeks of communication stumbles by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and new Independent Police Review Authority head Sharon Fairley, Police Board Chair Lori Lightfoot offered a clear outline of the challenges facing Chicago Police and a blueprint of solutions for improving community relations at a City Club appearance Tuesday afternoon. Her talk detailed challenges facing cops and the communities they police, including “hard truths” and possible solutions for Chicago’s next Police Superintendent.
Lightfoot, along with Fairley and the to-be-selected Police Superintendent, is one of three leaders appointed by the Mayor who will help resuscitate his policing strategy and confidence from minority communities. Her speech was to a sold-out crowd at Maggiano’s Banquets that included Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30), the chair of City Council’s Public Safety Committee; Ald. Willie Cochran (20), a former Chicago police officer; Ald. Joe Moore (49), Michael Sacks of World Business Chicago, Cong. Robin Kelly (D-IL), and full complement of news media.
She described police and civilians on opposite sides of a growing divide that grew deeper even before the events in Ferguson, Missouri. “There is a level of frustration and anger and lack of respect for any authority that is pervasive and frankly dangerous, literally all around us,” she said, referring to police presence. “The police bear the brunt of that anger, but the police have also sometimes fueled that anger by their actions, by their omissions, and a lack of understanding and respect.”
“We have tremendous opportunity to make real, lasting changes, and make the Chicago Police Department a model for the nation,” she added.
Lightfoot touched on the proliferation of illegal guns, the lack of basic resources in high-crime communities, unconscious racial bias within the department, accountability and the so-called “code of silence” among rank and file, and the demoralizing effect of the past few weeks on officers.
The next Superintendent will pay a key role in addressing those issues. That person “must be a person of unquestioned integrity, devoted to inclusive leadership, and has a track record of successful community engagement, among other important traits,” Lightfoot said.
Community interaction is sorely needed in high-crime communities, Lightfoot said, where police are often the, “only governmental actor who consistently shows up,” but are “ill-equipped” to deal with core issues like a lack of “basic community services and anchors like decent schools, day care, churches, community centers, parks or even grocery stores.” Lightfoot listed off high unemployment statistics in high-crime neighborhoods like Austin, West Englewood, and Roseland.
One audience member asked if IPRA should be dissolved and replaced with state oversight. Lightfoot said no, joked that Illinois had enough problems and described Fairley, who was sitting in the crowd, as a friend. “I know she’s doing a tremendous job,” she said, “She’s building her team, she is taking a very tough look at a number of the practices and policies and people involved in IPRA.”
At one point, Lightfoot grew teary-eyed while thanking her colleagues from Mayer Brown, and her wife. She started at Mayer Brown straight out of college in 1990. She left, then returned to the firm after a spell with various departments in the City of Chicago, including the Office of Procurement Standards, the predecessor to IPRA within the Chicago Police Department. Lightfoot said she gained some of her deepest insights into policing serving under then-Police Supt. Terry Hillard.
“Clearly” there are some police policies and practices that “must be abandoned immediately,” Lightfoot said. The corporate world might offer examples of how to incentivize good officers to break the code of silence, train officers to confront unconscious bias, and ensure supervisors are holding officers underneath them accountable. She later mentioned the expiration of officers’ collective bargaining agreement in June of 2017 as “timely”, given the work IPRA and the task force.
A handful of other public forums seeking community input, similar to one conducted at Kennedy King College last week, will be held in the weeks to come, Lightfoot said. Tomorrow’s regular Police Board meeting at Chicago Public Safety Headquarters (3510 S. Michigan Ave.) will focus on community input in the Superintendent search.
Other meetings on the subject will each will be three hours or longer, she said, and a new website will also go live later this week. Lightfoot said of the 39 who applied to become next Police Superintendent, a fair number of African Americans had applied, but she had not read through all of the applications.