PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday February 12th, 2016, 11:14am

Chicago's Police Accountability Task Force Faces Skeptical Public At Forum

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Police Accountability Task Force held its second of four community forums Thursday night on the city's South Side. Progress Illinois was there for the event, during which meeting attendees expressed skepticism that the mayor-appointed task force would lead to meaningful police reforms.

Community skepticism of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Police Accountability Task Force was on full display Thursday night when the panel held its second forum to gather public insight on recommended police reforms.

Emanuel formed the five-member task force in December in response to the public outcry following the November release of the now-infamous Laquan McDonald police shooting video.

The panel -- which heard from Chicagoans at the South Shore Cultural Center during its second of four scheduled community forums -- will report back to the mayor with proposed reforms by March 31.

City of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson is among the task force members.

"We have a fundamental deficit with respect to oversight of public safety and the police department, and everyone on this panel agrees with that," Ferguson told the crowd. "And that is why we're here" and why it's "so important to hear from you."

But meeting attendees expressed doubt that the mayor-appointed task force will lead to meaningful changes within the Chicago Police Department.

"Do you really have the authority to effectuate change? Because if not, this is a waste of time," said Arlene Coleman, president of the Cook County Bar Association.

Task Force Chairwoman and Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot responded.

"We feel very confident that the changes we're going to recommend will actually go into effect," she said, adding that the panel's recommendations will be sent to Chicago's aldermen, in addition to the mayor.

"They're going to go to the elected officials," Lightfoot said. "We encourage all of you when those recommendations are made to do exactly what you're doing now, which is raise your voices, make your voices known" about the recommendations you support.

As Emanuel tries to rebuild community trust in the CPD, he created the task force to improve police accountability, training and oversight. Many community members said they would believe in the Emanuel administration's desire to effect positive change when they see actual evidence of it.

Rose Joshua, president of the NAACP Chicago South Side branch, spoke on behalf of her organization.

The NAACP Chicago South Side branch "respectfully disapproves the creation by the office of the mayor a police accountability task force, which I know is not independent and separate from the office of the mayor," Joshua said.  "We will withhold our comments until this task force" presents its recommendations next month.

A spokesman for the family of 55-year-old Bettie Jones -- an Action Now member who was accidentally shot and killed by police in December -- addressed the panel. Eric Russell called for "respectful engagement" by police with community members.

"I think that's what the big key is," he said. "Because at this point, we are well beyond systemic racism. We are well beyond institutional racism. It seems as if the Chicago police doesn't have any respect for our humanity."

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown and State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) were among the elected officials at the event. 

Dunkin is sponsoring state legislation, HB 4349, to require liability insurance for law enforcement officers and establish "minimum standards for psychological evaluations" for police, according to the bill's synopsis. 

The state representative urged the panel to consider "personal liability insurance" for police officers.  

"That way the city won't be on the hook when (officers) make such an erroneous or egregious mistake or a murder," Dunkin said.

Since 2004, Chicago police misconduct has cost taxpayers almost $642 million in settlements and other costs, according to a recent review by the Better Government Association.

"Not only are we paying the salaries of police that mispolice us, we're paying for their mistakes as well," said Chicagoan Adrienne Irmer, adding that those funds could have otherwise gone toward education and "other services like reinvesting in our communities that are falling apart at the seams."

At least one audience member asked the panel to do something to prevent the possible destruction of decades worth of police misconduct records as part of legal case brought by the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP is fighting for the destruction of police misconduct records older than five years and dating back to 1967, claiming that keeping them violates its labor contract with the city.

Meeting attendees called for changes to the police union's contract, raising concerns that it could be hampering the police department's ability to hold officers accountable in instances of misconduct.

The panel, Lightfoot said, "is very focused on collective bargaining agreements" in terms of possible reforms. She encouraged the public to provide the task force with specific recommended changes they would like to see made to the police union contract.

The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force will hold its third forum in Pilsen on February 23 at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 W. Cermak Road. Click through for additional details on the upcoming forum.

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