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Weigh In On Chicago’s Court-Enforced Police Reform Plan Before It’s Finalized

The court will hold public hearings on the plan for police reform Wednesday and Thursday.

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

This story was produced by City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab.

CHICAGO — This week is your last chance to weigh in on the proposed consent decree before a federal judge decides to enforce the police reform plan.

The consent decree is a court-enforced agreement between the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago that requires the city to enact and sustain certain reforms in the police department. The decree comes after the U.S. Department of Justice found last year that the CPD engages in a pattern of unconstitutional use of force. 

The court will hold public hearings on the document agreed upon by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn St. 

Here’s what you should know about the 236-page consent decree ahead of the hearings:

It’s Going To Be In Place A Long Time. 

The city is hoping to meet the requirements of the consent decree in five years, with the court possibly terminating parts of the agreement that have been met sooner than that. But most cities that go through the process take much longer.

“If you look at cities smaller than Chicago that have had similar consent decrees, I don’t think there’s a city that’s finished in less than 10 [years],” said Lori Lightfoot, the former head of the Police Accountability Task Force who is now running for mayor.

The Los Angeles Police Department took 12 years to have federal oversight lifted after entering a consent decree agreement in 2001; in Detroit, it took 13 years. The Oakland Police Department is currently in its 15th year of a negotiated settlement agreement and its compliance deadlines have been extended several times.

The Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety Walter Katz said, however, that any timeline beyond the five-year goal set out in the decree is “pure speculation.”

It’s Going To Be Really Expensive. 

The Mayor’s office is budgeting $25.7 million for the first year of reforms, but the total cost will depend on how long it takes the Chicago Police Department to reach full compliance. Katz said reform costs will be borne by taxpayers in 2019, though the city may apply for grants to help cover the cost in the future.

Lightfoot has estimated that implementing the consent decree will cost the city $100 million over ten years. (In LA, the consent decree cost a total of $300 million over the course of 12 years.) 

But despite the heavy price tag, the consent decree could end up saving the city money. Between 2004 and 2015, the City of Chicago spent $642 million on police misconduct-related settlements and legal fees. If the decree is able to reduce police misconduct suits, the money would be well spent, Lightfoot said.

The Independent Monitor Will Have A Lot Of Power. 

The proposed consent decree includes an Independent Monitor team that will be responsible for checking whether the police department is implementing all of the reforms set out in the agreement. According to the decree, the monitor “will have access to all individuals, facilities, trainings, meetings, disciplinary proceedings, reviews and incident scenes” in the police department. As an agent of the court, the team’s records will not be subject to Illinois open records law.

While speaking last week in Chicago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticized the power of the Independent Monitor in the consent decree, saying that the “decree would hand over a significant portion of the [CPD] superintendent’s job to an unaccountable monitor.”

But Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU’s police practices project, said that the Monitor will in fact bring about more accountability and transparency in the police department.

“Unlike other reform efforts, the Monitor is going to be reporting out to the public and to the court about the progress that the city is making. So instead of the police department announcing we trained this number of officers and we’ve made a great improvement … we’ll see actually whether progress is being made,” she said. 

The public will have a chance to hear presentations and ask questions to the four finalists for the Independent Monitor position on Nov. 3.

Some Of The Reforms The Consent Decree Requires Have Already Begun. 

The most recent version of the consent decree came out in September, but some of its ideas for reform date back to the Police Accountability Task Force that the mayor assembled after the 2015 release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video. That’s given the CPD a long time to start introducing changes.

Take the crisis intervention section, for example. “The police department’s leadership in the crisis intervention team program is so fantastic, the lieutenant has built the program around the language in the consent decree,” said Alexa James, the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Chicago.

Other Reforms, When Implemented, Could Dramatically Change How Business Is Done In The Department. 

Thanks to the consent decree, the CPD will be required to “develop and implement a policy that prohibits sexual misconduct by CPD members” — the first comprehensive sexual misconduct policy the department has had. And it will require that all allegations of sexual misconduct and rape be investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and not by other uniformed officers, as was the case in the past.

The decree is also putting officers on notice about the “code of silence.” Officers will be required to immediately report any other CPD members “who have engaged in misconduct, including discrimination, profiling, or other bias-based policing.” The City is also required to make its best effort to renegotiate the police union contract so that COPA can investigate complaints made by citizens who want to remain anonymous or who don’t want to sign a notarized document. (Right now they are barred from doing so by the contract).

“Our hope is that the consent decree is going to be a process that really fundamentally changes the way the CPD is operating and that will create a structure to have lasting change,” says the ACLU’s Sheley.

For more information about the hearings and restrictions on what you can bring into the courtroom, visit the police consent decree website.