Inspector General Joe Ferguson said Monday he’s seeking another four-year term because the federal government’s retreat from police reform means local oversight is critical.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that police reformer and researcher Laura Kunard wanted assurances that the man who chose her to be Chicago’s $137,052-a-year deputy inspector general for public safety would not depart in a few months.
On Monday, Ferguson acknowledged that Kunard’s term is “tied to” his own and that, if he’s not reappointed, her new job “lasts only five or six months.”
But Ferguson also took it a step further. He argued that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to review and retreat from police reform agreements nationwide leaves a giant void that must be filled locally by the new, 25-employee, $1.8 million unit housed in his office.
“The absence of the Justice Department means that the city really needs to own this fully. And one of the key mechanisms that’s evolved in this whole field over the last 25 years is an inspector general function,” Ferguson said.
“I’m very anxious to get our shop up and running because I do think it would be a force amplifier and a driver.”
Ferguson was blunt when asked to assess the status of police reform in Chicago nearly one year to the day after release of the Task Force on Police Accountability report that set the stage for the Department of Justice report.
The reform effort is “not as far as we’d like to be. Not as far as we should be,” he said.
“There was probably a little bit of passivity waiting for the Justice Department to say what needed to be done. Now it’s on us and we’ve got to giddy up. It’s a warm day out there and we all know what happens in Chicago when it’s warm out. So we’ve all got to get moving,” he said.
Taking center stage at Kunard’s confirmation hearing, Ferguson argued that the Chicago Police Department is “only barely in the game” in some areas of reform and “not in the game at all” in others.
He specifically mentioned an early intervention and counseling system that is “barely being used” and supervision and training, both of which the DOJ called grossly inadequate.
“We’re literally expanding the ranks of field training officers right now and we haven’t implemented it fully in the field. Each one of these things is complex and we’re only in the starting gate with those we actually have stepped into,” the inspector general said.
Ferguson referred to Chicago’s moribund community policing program as the “poster child” for the “right idea” without adequate resources.
“This is a brand that has existed within the Chicago Police Department for 25 years and was never implemented as it was devised. One of the challenges here is we’re dealing with tarnished brands. And the public is gonna have a hard time trusting a tarnished brand,” he said.
“The only way we’re going to come to trust and legitimacy is to make sure that these programs are being implemented effectively. If the issue is fiscal resources for the department or prioritization of resources within the department to make sure they operate right, that’s part of what we’ll be looking at.”
Ferguson spent two years in a cold war with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which included a legal battle over access to documents that went all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Their relationship was so frosty it appeared that Emanuel was counting the days until Ferguson’s term expired. It was only after the Ohio bribery scandal that culminated in the conviction of former City Comptroller Amer Ahmad that Emanuel seemed to realize Ferguson was more helpful than threatening.
Sources said Emanuel is amenable to reappointing Ferguson, but only after a face-to-face conversation with the inspector general, which hasn’t happened yet.
“We each have our jobs to do. He respects the job that I do. I respect the job that he has to do,” Ferguson said on Monday.
During Monday’s confirmation hearing, Kunard got off on the wrong foot with powerful Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).
It happened after Kunard started off by declaring that the current system of police accountability was “largely ineffective” and that it has “lost legitimacy” with Chicagoans because “so few officers historically have been held accountable for substandard performances or misconduct.”
“It’s very disturbing to me. . . . You can always find fault with it — ‘Nothing that we have done in the past has been any good. I’m here to straighten it out,’ ” Austin said.
“I really get tired of people saying that because I’ve been here 22 years and things have been operating. Maybe not at its best, but it has been operating,” Austin said. “It does a disservice to us as a city for you all to come in here and say that.”
Under questioning by indicted Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, Kunard said she hopes to use officer ride-alongs and community meetings to “dig into” areas like training, supervision and early intervention that help officers do a “very difficult and dangerous job.”
“We can’t expect officers to perform their duties well without supporting them,” she said. “The main thrust of this position really is to drive change. . . . Essentially, this is an oversight function. Much of what we’ll be doing is assessing . . . fidelity to the model. How are policies implemented? What do they look like on the street? How is data being collected by these bodies? And how might we look at that data in some new way?”