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Trump Administration Says Chicago Police Don’t Need Reforms Laid Out In Consent Decree, Sparking New Battle

The Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department called the all-but completed consent decree “dangerous.”

Public hearings on the proposed police consent decree are this week.
Kelly Bauer/ Block Club Chicago

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CHICAGO — A new chapter opened this week in the enduring battle between the city of Chicago and the Trump Administration — the fight over whether the city is entitled to funds designed to help the Chicago Police Department reduce crime at the same time it prohibits officers from cooperating with federal immigration agents in most cases.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel sued the federal government for the second time over Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally objected to the city’s effort to put a federal judge in charge of reforming the Police Department’s inappropriate use of force that the Obama-era Department of Justice found fell “heaviest on predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.”

Three months ago, U.S. District Court Judge Harry D. Leinenweber permanently blocked the Trump administration from yanking federal funds from Chicago because city officials would not allow federal immigration access to detention facilities and provide 48 hours notice before they release an undocumented immigrant wanted by federal authorities.

But Chicago has yet to get the $2 million officials contend the city is entitled to from the 2017 Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. The Byrne-JAG grant is the leading source of federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies. The city plans to use those funds to expand the police department’s gunshot detection system, which officials believe has contributed to a 17 percent drop in shootings during the first nine months of 2018.

“Chicago has repeatedly beaten the Trump Justice Department in court, and Chicago is proud to fight the Trump Justice Department again,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Instead of inviting lawsuits and attacking immigrants, the Trump DOJ should immediately stop placing illegal conditions on these grants, quit withholding grant funding, and allow Chicago to use these grants to improve public safety. We will not be bullied, intimidated or coerced into making a false choice between our values as a welcoming city and the principles of community policing.”

RELATED: Emanuel vs. Trump – A Rundown of the City’s Suits Against the Feds

In addition, Chicago has yet to receive an award letter for 2018 grant, which officials want to use “to bolster the resources of the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Detectives,” the mayor’s office announced.

“We have already won this battle in court, and yet the attorney general continues to disregard numerous federal court rulings that have repeatedly said he does not have the authority to add these requirements to a grant program created by Congress,” said Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel.

Siskel’s former law firm, Wilmer Hale, is representing the city pro bono in the latest round of litigation along with law firm Riley Safer.

In 2016, the City of Chicago received $2.3 million in JAG funds.

Chicago officials first sued the Trump administration over the sanctuary city issue in August, with Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson vowing the city would “not knuckle under to threats” and compromise public safety by alienating residents of Chicago.

In addition, Trump administration officials have also withheld the 2017 COPS Hiring award of $3 million to Chicago. The 2018 COPS Hiring solicitation was put on hold by the COPS Office until further notice because the Department of Justice has found Chicago in violation of federal immigration law.

Sessions has repeatedly criticized Chicago for declaring itself a “sanctuary city,” saying those policies tie the hands of law enforcement by “undermining federal laws that would remove criminal, illegal aliens from the streets and remove them from this country.”

However, the Trump administration has repeatedly lost court cases from coast to coast seeking to yank federal funds — although the Department of Justice is now appealing all of those decisions.

A federal judge blocked an initial order by Sessions in April 2017 that raised the possibility that Chicago stood to lose $1.3 billion — 14 percent of its budget. The president’s executive order contained “broad and threatening language” that “impermissibly” threatened cities like Chicago determined to protect undocumented immigrants with the loss of all federal grants, the judge ruled.

Department Of Justice Opposes Consent Decree

Hours after Emanuel announced the city would sue the federal government a second time over the $5 million in withheld grants — a fraction of the city’s approximately $9 billion annual budget — the Sessions-led Justice Department called the all-but completed consent decree “dangerous.”

“Our goal should be to empower it to fulfill its duties, not to restrict its proper functioning or excessively demean the entire Department for the errors of a few,” Sessions said in a statement.  “Make no mistake: unjustified restrictions on proper policing and disrespect for our officers directly led to this tragic murder surge in Chicago.”

RELATED: Officials Pledge Reform Will Stick As They Release Draft Agreement For Federal Oversight Of The Chicago Police Department

Emanuel last week dismissed the Department of Justice’s decision to file a statement of interest in the case as inconsequential, and said it would have only “symbolic value.”

ACLU of Illinois Police Practices Project Director Karen Sheley called Sessions’ 11-page statement a “last-minute political play.”

“The Trump Administration and Sessions’ Department of Justice have never attempted to learn about the problems in Chicago or what reform is necessary,” Sheley said in a statement.

As part of the same announcement of its opposition to the consent decree, the Department of Justice announced that five additional violent crime prosecutors will join the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois to create a Gun Crimes Prosecution Team that will focus on investigating and prosecuting gun cases from the most violent neighborhoods in Chicago.

That action was in response to Trump’s call Oct. 8 to undo a 2015 agreement between the city and American Civil Liberties Union that required Chicago Police officers to keep detailed records of every street stop. The ACLU found that CPD officers stopped pedestrians at record-high levels, and half of those stops violated the constitutional rights of many African American and Latino Chicagoans. Trump said the reimposition of stop-and-frisk was needed to “to help straighten out the terrible shooting wave” in Chicago.

While Emanuel called stop-and-frisk a “failed policy,” the mayor said he would welcome additional federal agents to help prosecute violent crime.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan— who sued the city to force the city to negotiate a consent decree when the Trump Administration refused — is expected to announce this week which of nine firms that applied to serve as the independent monitor overseeing the consent decree will advance to the final round of the selection process.