PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday January 8th, 2016, 4:39pm

Former St. Louis Police Chief, Journalists Discuss Chicago Police Woes At U Of C

Former St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom joined Chicago journalists Thursday evening at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics to discuss local police issues in light of the Laquan McDonald case. 

With the search underway for Chicago's next top cop, former St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom says he won't be applying for the position.

Isom -- who previously served as director of Missouri's Public Safety Department after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014 and subsequent unrest in Ferguson -- participated in a University of Chicago Institute of Politics panel discussion on Chicago police issues Thursday evening.

After nearly 40 minutes of discussion about the many daunting challenges and public-confidence issues facing the CPD, which is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department in light of the Laquan McDonald shooting case, Isom was asked whether he plans to apply to become superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. 

"I don't plan to at this point in time," Isom replied. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on December 1. McCarthy's firing came after the court-ordered release of dash-cam video showing a white police officer shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in October 2014 as the African-American teen was walking away from police. John Escalante is serving as interim police superintendent during the hunt for a new CPD chief.

Also speaking on Thursday's panel, titled "Chicago After Laquan McDonald: Rebuilding The Trust," were Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell and the Invisible Institute's Jamie Kalven, a journalist-activist who first reported on the existence of the McDonald shooting video.

The discussion was held amid growing controversy surrounding police misconduct in Chicago. The problems have spread to the city's law department, where a top attorney resigned Monday after a federal judged ruled that he concealed evidence in a case involving a 2011 fatal police shooting.

Emanuel, who suppressed the McDonald dash-cam footage for over a year during his re-election campaign, is trying to regain the public's trust amid calls for his resignation.

"It's gonna take a long time to rebuild trust," Mitchell said. "The gap between the community that's being policed and the police department is so wide, that's not gonna close overnight."

Panelists stopped short of saying Emanuel should resign over the McDonald case.

"When you start talking about 'the mayor has to go' and you look at what happened with the Laquan McDonald case, then you really need to say everybody needs to go, because the system failed," Mitchell said. "The media failed. The police department failed. The lawyers failed. The family failed. This was a breakdown from top to bottom."

"Personally, I can't put all that on the mayor," she added. "I think the mayor's office is part of the problem, but I think ... this is something that has been allowed to grow like a disease ... and spread across the institutions in Chicago."  

Kalven agreed with Mitchell, but stressed that the mayor still "has a great deal to answer for" in terms of the McDonald case and other police misconduct issues.

"He inherited this. He didn't create this mess," Kalven said. "And he could have done more to affect it. He accommodated to it."

That being said, "it would have taken ... extraordinary leadership to really double down on this issue" had Emanuel made tackling police misconduct a top priority upon taking office in 2011, Kalven explained. 

In this current moment, however, Kalven said Emanuel's "circumstances are such that he can be a significant agent of change."

Isom provided his perspective on the issue.

 "If you have systemic and institutional problems and you get rid of the head of an organization, that is not necessarily going to cure the problem," he said. "Whether the mayor leaves or not is not going to solve the underlying issues in the community."

During questions and answers, one audience member floated the idea of establishing a Chicago "truth and reconciliation commission" on police brutality to help rebuild public trust in the department. Another attendee, a U of C student and member of the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, said the city should use some of its policing funds to make greater investments in education, jobs and health care in under-resourced neighborhoods.

"We're consistently funneling more money into an institution that obviously doesn't work," said Cosette Hampton, who said 40 percent of Chicago's budget goes toward police costs. "Why don't we start discussion (around) maybe reducing that budget to 20 percent or 15 percent and reallocating that to communities that can actually use it, instead of closing schools and closing mental health facilities that people need."

Isom told Hampton he agreed with her.

"Instead of hotspot policing, why don't we do hotspot social services?" he said, adding that he thinks "police officers would love to be more a part of the solution instead of the bad parent all the time." 

"What if an officer had the ability to take a young person and refer them to social services?" Isom said. "What if they had the ability to work with the family to address some of the problems within their communities? Really, the only tools that we're giving officers at this point in time is to arrest people. That's what we expect them to do."

"And so I wholeheartedly agree with you," he told Hampton. "Instead of investing 20, 30 thousand more dollars into policing -- (which) clearly has not given us the bang for our buck over the course of many years, and that's not to say officers don't do a great job in some circumstances and protect us in other circumstances -- but there has to be a different way. And we have to think about really, really truly investing in these communities in a way that we're investing in law enforcement." 

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