CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a group of mayors from across the country released a “blueprint” Thursday describing how cities can reform their police departments.
Lightfoot led the group that created the plan, which rejects defunding police departments and instead suggests putting more money into social services, empowering police chiefs to hold officers accountable and creating policies that require other officers to step in when one of them is using excessive force.
The plan, put together by members of the United States Conference of Mayors, is supposed to create guidelines cities can follow “to improve policing and address structural racism that has plagued the nation,” according to a press release. The conference includes 1,400 mayors from across the U.S.
“The status quo has failed far too many, including dealing with, head-on, our country’s history of racism and how policing has been used” to enforce racism and segregation, Lightfoot said during a call with reporters. “The public must have a reason to trust the police, to cooperate with the police and to call upon the police for help.”
The plan comes amid national unrest over police killing George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. Floyd’s slaying led to continuing protests in Chicago and renewed calls to defund and majorly reform the Police Department.
Lightfoot has rejected calls to defund the Chicago Police Department. She also rejected using her authority to remove Chicago Police officers from schools, another demand made by protesters. Instead, she and Chicago Public Schools left that decision in the hands of local school councils.
Lightfoot and other leaders who were part of the mayors group emphasized that again Thursday, with one saying the plan was “explicitly” against defunding police.
“A well-resourced police department remains critical as we attend to the other needs of communities, as well,” Lightfoot said. She rejected using any of the nearly $1.8 billion policing budget to fund this plan.
Injustice Watch reports that Chicago is spending more on policing per person than at any time in the last half-century.
But cities have grown to rely too much officers “to solve every need in the community,” and that’s causing residents to suffer, Lightfoot said. That means governments should be investing more in social services and mental health care, according to the plan.
“… The law enforcement first and only approach to public safety has deepened divides between police and communities of color,” Lightfoot said.
The group’s plan focuses on six areas:
- Trust and legitimacy
- Redefining the role of local police and public safety
- Equality and due process
- Sanctity of life
- Transparency and accountability
Key among the plan’s suggestions are that police departments create use of force policies that emphasize deadly force should be a last resort — and that includes using chokeholds and neck restraints, Lightfoot said.
“If force is necessary, it must be the minimum force necessary,” Lightfoot said. “And, of course, bias-free enforcement is absolutely essential.”
Police department leaders also need to be empowered to enforce these policies, Lightfoot and other leaders said during the call.
Police chiefs have lost power to review and discipline officers in collective bargaining agreements between city governments and police unions, according to the mayors group.
Part of the problem is arbitrators are helping in the negotiations, but they don’t live in the cities that will be affected by police union agreements and don’t have to be accountable to residents, the mayors group said.
“That can no longer stand the test of time,” Lightfoot said. “We can give our officers due process without undermining our systems of accountability and transparency.”
To fight that, police unions should “engage with good will as well and participate in these urgent reforms, work with cities as partners — not obstructionists — on accountability and transparency and other reforms,” according to the report.
The national conversation around police reform has presented a unique opportunity for cities to enact those reforms, Lightfoot said.
“We have to make sure that we take advantage of the opportunity that is presented by this once-in-a-generation national conversation around needs and community and what, truly, are the tools and the levers to make communities safe and vibrant,” Lightfoot said. “Truly, not since 1968, when our cities were on fire in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, have we seen such a cry for change and the opportunity to actually answer that cry in an affirmative way that comes forward with solutions.”
But city governments will need to work with police chiefs and community members to make meaningful, lasting changes, Lightfoot said.
And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reform for cities, and some cities have already put in place the changes the plan suggests, the mayor said. That’s why the group’s plan will merely serve as a “toolkit” for mayors and city leaders.
Lightfoot has promised change is coming to Chicago.
Amid turmoil over Floyd’s killing, Lightfoot promised some reforms would come within 90 days, and she led up the Conference of Mayors group to look at how departments across the country can make changes.
“I think we’ve done a lot regarding accountability measures …,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve taken a lot of steps forward, but we have a lot more work that we need to do on the road to accountability.”
The Police Department has continued to face heavy criticism for disproportionately targeting people of color and not taking enough steps to reform.
Just this week, police shot a 20-year-old Black man in Englewood. Police said the man had fired shots at officers, but his family has disputed that.
Officers were not wearing body cameras that could have showed what happened.
And the department missed more than 70 percent of its consent decree deadlines in its first year, it revealed in June. The consent decree was put in place by the Department of Justice in an attempt to force the department to change after widespread criticism over police fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Black Lives Matter Chicago activists have criticized Lightfoot for failing to deliver meaningful police reform.
“Righteous and justified anger — like the kind expressed after the police murder of Laquan McDonald and subsequent cover-up — has proven to be the only tool for police accountability that the public has at their disposal,” the group said in a statement. “The mayor cannot expect people to play by her rules as she refuses to treat them with basic dignity.
“These protests can only end when the safety and wellbeing of our communities is finally prioritized.”
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