This week, a group of better government groups, calling themselves The Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability held a press conference to put additional pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to discard his still-to-be-revealed “agreement” with the Department of Justice on a police reform plan and instead pursue a court-enforced consent decree with a third party.
The legal differences between a consent decree and an agreement are complicated and at times contradictory, but what police reform groups are all demanding is some group that is not the Trump Administration’s DOJ to oversee and enforce a potentially decades-long reform plan for the Chicago police department. Using Los Angeles’ experience as a guide, such a consent decree could cost tens of millions of dollars per year for city taxpayers, but is the gold standard for making sure police culture improves and community members are convinced reform is underway.
At this point, dozens of long-standing, legitimate community organizations have come forward to demand a consent decree, as has the Illinois Attorney General, several aldermen and the mayor’s own Police Board President. Standing with the mayor to oppose a consent decree is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the leader of rank and file at the ground level of reform efforts.
Ultimately, police reform and control of the Chicago police department is about mayoral power. When observing Emanuel’s resistance to even begin a public dialogue with police reform advocates, the issue starts to take on characteristics of Emanuel’s other big power boondoggle: control of Chicago Public Schools.
Emanuel is but a hair’s breadth away from losing control of CPS to an elected school board. The Illinois House has passed one version of an elected school board and earlier this month the Illinois Senate passed another. What’s left is for the House to reconsider the Senate version. If Gov. Bruce Rauner signs it, Chicago will have another elected body to worry about in 2023.
Emanuel has steadfastly opposed an elected school board, saying in press conferences such a body would be controlled by special interests like the teachers’ union, but he never expressed a willingness to openly debate or discuss the idea. He could have discussed it on “Chicago Tonight” with Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis. Or he could have toured the city, in open, widely-advertised forums, to discuss it.
Instead, Emanuel instructed his lieutenants, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, to speak on his behalf against the measure. When he addressed the issue, it was brief, using highly-constructed talking points–I’ve heard some of them at press conferences myself.
Now, as punishment for not engaging the public, the state legislature is about to take away from Emanuel one of the most important duties of any big city mayor: Educating children. Maybe Emanuel doesn’t care because it won’t happen until 2023, after the end of his prospective third term. But the result seems punitive, because our Mayor never made a real argument about something so important.
We’re getting the same treatment now on another hugely important mayoral duty: police reform. Except this time, instead of Claypool and Jackson, we’re delivered Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel. It’s tiring for those of us who want to understand the mayor’s thinking, because we can tell that we’re just getting warmed over talking points, not an actual discussion of the merits.
Maybe it’s not Emanuel’s intention, but his unwillingness to engage in a public manner, opening himself up to criticism on a matter so important, makes him seem arrogant. And like with the elected school board issue, there are other organizations that could potentially take away his control of the police department.
Already one group has filed suit to seek a consent decree. Two weeks ago, an even bigger fish, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (who has an office full of plenty-capable attorneys) reportedly threatened Emanuel with filing suit herself. And the new organization announced this week, The Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability, is backed by the ACLU, Better Government Association and Businesses for the Public Interest. All organizations with the resources to file and carry out a long court battle.
Just like with his control of the school board, the longer Emanuel resists engagement with the public, the more likely it seems that he’ll lose.