After the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force released a scathing report last Wednesday on the department, saying officers have "no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color," Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced the immediate implementation of about one-third of the group's outlined recommendations.
The new reform measures will focus on three goals: increasing transparency, creating trust between city residents and officers, and improving police accountability and oversight.
"As a city, we cannot rest until we fully address the systemic issues facing the Chicago Police Department, and the steps announced today build on our road to reform," Emanuel said in an announcement detailing the reforms. "Under the leadership of Superintendent Eddie Johnson, the police department will implement these reforms immediately while we continue to work together to find additional ways to restore the fabric of trust in communities across Chicago. As we look toward the future, our city will be better off because we faced up to these challenges and confronted them head on."
Some of the specific reforms include training CPD officers to "better understand cultural differences" and improving the department's Bureau of Internal Affairs as a means to address cover ups and ensure officer accountability for misconduct. Dispatchers with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications and 911 call takers would also be trained "to improve their interactions and deliver the best service possible to the public," according to the mayor's office.
The immediate changes coming to the Chicago Police Department do not include, however, two of the most sought-after reforms: the disbandment of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and a review of the police union contract.
Critics say the mayor's self-described "down payment" on addressing the 183-page report's recommendations fall short of true reform -- particularly when it comes to IPRA. The report lays out more than 100 recommendations, including the dismantling of IPRA. A "civilian oversight entity" should be created to replace IPRA, according to the task force. Chicago South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) released a statement criticizing the mayor's initial response to the task force report, saying his approach fails to go far enough to incite true change:
'The difficult I'll do right now, the impossible will take a little while,' seem to be the lyrics Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering the public in response to the 190-page report by the Police Accountability Task Force which recommends sweeping changes in the Chicago Police Department in the wake of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's death by police.
While the mayor calls his announcement to put in place a number of recommendations, that have been agreed to already, a 'down payment,' a real investment toward reform would be to dismantle the Independent Police Review Authority for a credible citizen agency to investigate police shootings, use of force, domestic violence, bias, and coercion. Based on IPRA's record of finding only two accusations of police misconduct credible out of 409 police shootings investigated since 2007, the agency has no credibility.
It makes no sense for the mayor, who initially called an investigation by the Department of Justice 'misguided,' to wait. This is our opportunity to get in front of the DOJ and do what needs to be done to ensure independent and fair investigations for everyone. Since 2004, Chicago has paid out $660 million of taxpayer money for police misconduct. This is another example of being penny wise and pound foolish, because any court-ordered reforms and oversight by the DOJ will cost taxpayers more money.
Emanuel said it is too soon to completely abolish the agency because the U.S. Department of Justice is still conducting its investigation into the police department's practices and procedures.
"I think it would be a mistake for us, it's not just me, to do something where six, seven months later, eight months later, the Justice Department says we did it wrong. And then we're gonna change the system again," the mayor said, according to WBEZ.
Instead of getting rid of IPRA, the agency will remain under the purview of its new chief administrator, Sharon Fairley, who is now tasked with forming a community board "with broad representation" and attaining the authority to audit IPRA investigations. Fairley will also define the process in which the chief administrator can override the requirement that complaintants sign of a sworn affidavit before IPRA and the CPD can finish investigations of alleged police misconduct.
Some of the other changes the Emanuel administration listed as part of the recommendations the city is taking up immediately include things that were already in the works, like equipping all officers with Tasers, increasing the number of cops wearing body cameras, and increased mental health training among policemen.
The city is still working on certain reforms, including clear and defined penalties for police misconduct and a consistent process for releasing police video and evidence in police-involved shootings. The details for these reforms are expected to released in coming weeks, according to Emanuel's office.
"We are at a historic moment for reform in Chicago's history, and under the leadership of Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent Johnson, we are taking steps in the right direction to address the issues facing the Chicago Police Department," Chairman of the Public Safety Committee Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) said via statement. "We have more work to do in order to rebuild public trust and restore accountability in the police department. In the weeks and months ahead, we'll be working with leaders across the city and the City Council to continue to address these important issues."
Meanwhile, a group of educators, lawyers and journalists have dissected the task force's report, creating an interactive tracker of the recommendations that the public can access and annotate. Thus far, the joint project between Smart Chicago, the Invisible Institute and the City Bureau have laid out about individual 200 recommendations from the report in 12 subject areas: Community & Youth Relations; Public Complaint Process, Mental Health Response; Affidavits & Investigations; Civilian Police Monitoring; Independent Police Review Authority; Release of Video; Community Safety; Early Intervention & Personnel; Organizational Reform; Independent Oversight; and Overarching Recommendations. Check out the Task Force Tracker here.