U.S. Attorney General speaks at a press conference releasing a Department of Justice report on Chicago policing problems on Friday, January 13, 2017. Pictured at right, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and at left, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Photo: Aaron Cynic)

U.S. Attorney General speaks at a press conference releasing a Department of Justice report on Chicago policing problems on Friday, January 13, 2017. Pictured at right, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and at left, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Photo: Aaron Cynic)

City and federal officials stood before a packed room of press Friday morning to present the explosive findings of a 13-month Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department and its accountability structures. Rather than focusing on some of the more damning findings, the assembled officials called for increased police support and assured reporters that despite the new Trump administration’s leanings, the DOJ’s recommendations would stick.

The Agreement In Principle

The city’s one and a half page agreement in principle is notably shorter and more vague than similar agreements the DOJ has reached with major police departments. Both the Baltimore and Newark, New Jersey agreements in principle, for example, hover around a dozen pages, and contain an outline of agreed reforms on specific policies (on areas like data collection, stops and searches, or use of force), as well as details on judicial enforceability and independent monitoring, baseline measures, and a deadline for implementation.

Both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch pointed to specific recommendations within the report, saying those will serve as the baseline for forming a consent decree going forward. “The agreement in principle provides a general framework for change, but the department will be doing community outreach to solicit input in developing comprehensive reforms,” the release from the DOJ says.

Important components of the Chicago-DOJ agreement in principle:

  • Chicago will work to improve upon the problems cited – “The Parties are committed to ensuring that police practices not only reflect constitutional principles, but the values of the communities served by CPD. To that end, the Agreement [consent decree] will include mechanisms that will facilitate full and ongoing participation of community members, including officers, in the implementation of the reform process.”
  • Chicago and DOJ will negotiate a consent decree – The city, CPD, and DOJ “commit to negotiate in good faith” to reach a consent decree, “to be entered as an order of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.” That consent decree “will include reforms of CPD’s use of force practices and accountability mechanisms, as well as its training, community policing, supervision, data collection, transparency, officer wellness systems and promotion practices.”
  • A consent decree would include a third-party monitor – An independent third-party monitor will be selected to determine whether the consent decree is being implemented, and when goals of the decree are achieved. The consent decree would specify the selection and appointment process for the monitor.
  • Unlike other consent decrees, the monitor will never supersede city control of police – “The Superintendent of CPD, who is answerable to the Mayor of Chicago, will always retain full authority to run CPD in accordance with law.”
  • Once there’s a consent decree, there will be no more lawsuits – The United States will not file a lawsuit related to constitutional violations  “while the Parties engage in good faith negotiations to reach a Settlement Agreement.”

The city did not “concede that there is a pattern or practice of constitutional violations,” which is common, but did agree “that the United States’ findings raise issues of importance to the City and the community and is committed to addressing the issues raised by the investigation.”

Prepared statements from the press conference:

How The Investigation Was Conducted, And What Changes Have Been Made

The DOJ investigation, launched in December 2015, involved DOJ’s “largest team ever in a policing pattern-or-practice case” and looked specifically into CPD and the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), looking at use of force reports and investigative files exclusive to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s term, between January 2011 and April 2016.

In the process, DOJ, according to a release:

  • Interviewed and met with city leaders, current and former police officials, and rank and file officers
  • Accompanied line officers on over 60 ride-alongs in each of the city’s 22 police districts;
  • Heard from over 1,000 community members and more than 90 community organizations;
  • Reviewed police policies, procedures, training and materials;
  • Analyzed over 170 officer-involved shooting investigations and documents related to over 400 force incidents

The city and police department began implementing changes more than a year ago, outlined by Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent Eddie Johnson in yesterday’s press conference, and in this comprehensive letter sent from Corporation Counsel Steve Patton to the DOJ’s Gupta last month:

  • Update to the city’s video release policy
  • Release of an end of the year progress report on reform efforts
  • Moving to equip all of the city’s police district beat officers with body cameras
  • Establishing the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and a Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety
  • Commitments to establish a Community Oversight Board
  • Creating an anonymous hotline for CPD members to report misconduct
  • Finalizing a discipline (or complaint register) matrix and building an early intervention system (EIS)
  • Training officers and 911 call takers and dispatchers on mental health first response
  • Recruiting a more diverse class of officers, and analyzing deployment allocation to address claims of racial and ethnic disparities in 911 response times
  • Revising and updating use of force policies, and revamped training, including on de-escalation and taser use

Worries About Electoral Churn

Mayor Emanuel, A.G. Lynch, and Supt. Eddie Johnson sought to dispel worries that the looming change in administration would halt reforms.

“We are going to work with the incoming administration to work through a consent decree,” the mayor said. But given President-Elect Donald Trump and AG nominee Jeff Sessions’ views on policing and consent decrees, he pledged the city would work independently to implement recommendations “to continue on the road of making the steps we think are important to build the trust that ultimately needs to happen.” The mayor said he has not spoken with the Trump transition team about the DOJ findings, since he was only briefed on them Thursday.  

“A transition is coming in Washington,” A.G. Lynch said. “The top people at DOJ move on, but this agreement is not dependent upon one or two or three people.” A.G. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Zach Fardon, and DOJ Civil Rights Division Principal Deputy Assitant Secretary Vanita Gupta were all political appointees and are on the chopping block under the Trump administration.

But Lynch said career lawyers in Chicago and Washington, elected officials in Chicago, the police department, and the community will continue the push for reforms. “Every party to this, in terms of the agreement, is here before you and committed,” she said. “And I have to say, during the course of the investigation, what has been quite striking for all of us, has been the commitment of Chicago’s citizens.”

Emphasizing The Benefit For Police

Officials also took pains to illustrate how many reforms were suggested by–and would ultimately benefit–the city’s rank and file officers, who were hampered by what AG described as “severely deficient training procedures and accountability systems.” Officers are overworked and undertrained, the investigation found, given unpredictable and ineffective discipline for mistakes, subject to opaque promotion systems, and not provided with the support they need to deal with the stress and trauma of their jobs.

“CPD does not give its officers the training they need to do their jobs safely, effectively, and lawfully,” Lynch said, broadly outlining the report’s findings. “All of these issues are compounded by poor supervision and oversight, leading to lower officer morale, and an erosion of officer accountability.” She said officers lack support from the community and city to properly due their jobs, all while Chicago is dealing with a “deeply troubling rise in violent crime.”   

Officers offered recommendations they’d like to see, Mayor Emanuel said. “They spoke up on behalf of training. They’ve asked for greater investments in technology. They asked for greater transparency. This is not us versus them, about putting something on the police, but getting them a seat at the table to be part of the solution for better professionalized police.”

In a letter to aldermen sent Friday afternoon, Mayor Emanuel emphasized that getting officers on board was key to fighting crime in Chicago. “Our officers are the backbone of our public safety efforts and as we continue this path to progress, we must be guided by the philosophy that this is work we are doing with our officers, not to our officers. At the end of the day, high professional standards and proactive, engaged policing are two sides of the same coin.”

“Unconstitutional policing has no place in CPD or the City of Chicago. That’s why we’ve been fully cooperative with the DOJ throughout their investigation, and many of their findings have come as a result of their interviews with CPD personnel,” Supt. Johnson said in his prepared remarks. “We, CPD, need to do a much better job of mentoring, supporting, and training our police officers.”

“Their jobs aren’t easy and it’s up to us to make sure they have what they need to do their jobs effectively and safely – for themselves and for the public,” Supt. Johnson said. “We started on that path a year ago and I give my word to every officer and every Chicagoan that we won’t quit until we get it right.”

Focus On Crime, De-Emphasis On Race

Lynch and others at the press conference yesterday largely sidestepped discussion of race in prepared remarks. The Attorney General alluded to it when discussing community-police relations, which she said “taps into long histories, deep beliefs and strong opinions… but it also forces us to honestly acknowledge the ways in which our society has fallen short in extending the protection of our laws to all Americans.”

Gupta was more explicit, but framed her comments in relation to its effect on crime. “The failures we identified—that we heard about from residents and officers alike—have deeply eroded community trust, particularly in African-American and Latino communities suffering the most from gun violence on Chicago’s South and West Sides,” she read from her prepared statement.

“These neighborhoods are the hardest hit by CPD’s pattern of unlawful force and breakdowns in the city’s accountability systems. These breakdowns breed distrust and undermine police legitimacy in the very communities that need fair, proactive policing the most. Distrust of law enforcement makes residents unwilling to share information. And that makes it harder for officers to solve and prevent crimes. Addressing the deeply rooted police-community distrust is a critical part of fighting crime and reducing violence in Chicago.”

U.S. Attorney Fardon only referred to “pain and polarization around policing,” focusing more on the need for excellence and proactivity in policing to stem crime and violence. He noted that the South and West sides are disproportionately impacted by crime, and “broken trust” exists in those communities.

When one reporter noted the lack of discussion about race in the morning’s proceedings, Mayor Emanuel responded, “There is no room in the city of Chicago for racial statements, racism, or comments that are permissive of racism.” While racism is in “every sphere of society,” he said, “when you have a responsibility as a public official, it means you have to serve every individual… there is no room for bigotry, hatred, or racism.”

Lynch said DOJ’s investigation found constitutional violations “across lines,” but the “impact of the lack of trust is felt to a greater degree” in minority communities.