An unprecedented apology from the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police for “historical mistreatment of communities of color” was “thoughtful and well-received” and the same thing should happen in Chicago, Police Board President Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.
Two months ago, Lightfoot made the case for increased training and changes to both the police contract and to the way police supervisors are chosen to restore public trust in the Chicago Police Department, shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
After hearing from a “startling cross-section” of Chicagoans who view police officers as racist, Lightfoot also made the case for “some kind of racial reconciliation” that would allow Chicagoans who have felt harassed or disrespected by police to publicly air their grievances across the table from police brass.
On Tuesday, Lightfoot, who also chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability, appeared before aldermen again while testifying at City Council budget hearings. Only this time, she had some powerful support in her plea for racial reconciliation.
At an International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in San Diego this week, association president Terrence Cunningham issued a blanket apology for what he called “actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
Lightfoot applauded Cunningham for “recognizing the fact that, particularly people of color and African-Americans have not had a great, storied and productive relationship with the police, recognizing why that is, what it is, then moving forward in a way that is respectful and embraces the importance of community engagement.”
“If you haven’t read his speech, I recommend it to you. Very, very thoughtful. It’s been very well-received for the most part. Frankly, I’d like to see something like that happen here in Chicago. It would go a long way in helping all of our residents and frankly helping our police come together in a way that’s important,” Lightfoot said.
That prompted Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former longtime chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, to make his own suggestion about ways to break down the racial barriers
“Have a lot of the squad cars integrated because I believe that we can learn from one another. If you are in a squad car for eight hours a day for 20 years with the same person who thinks like you, you have nothing to learn from one another,” Beale said.
“Hiring more people of color that reflect the communities they’re patrolling will go a long way,” he said. “But more importantly, having two individuals of different ethnicities together, they can learn from one another and maybe de-escalate certain situations when they go into communities.”
Lightfoot also expressed hope that changes are coming to police training which, until now, has been so “woefully insufficient,” the “only mandatory annual” requirement for police officers once they graduate from the police academy is firearms qualification that simply requires “firing 30 bullets into a paper target.”
That’s particularly important at a time when Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to hire 970 additional police officers over the next two years.
“It’s difficult for them to actually form the kind of relationships that they want to and need to with community residents because of the high volume of calls for service that they’re chasing literally from the time they start their tour till the time they end. So, getting new bodies is important. But it doesn’t make sense to bring new officers on if we’re not going to support them with better, more detailed, more systematic, more thoughtful training,” she said.
“There are movements now within the department to really rethink strategically the way we do training and not have it be episodic and reactive to circumstances on the ground, be something that is a part of the everyday life of the officers so they don’t leave the academy and then end their career without any real training beyond the annual firearms qualifications, as unfortunately has been the case for way too many years.”
Lightfoot also renewed her calls for changes to the police contract. But she argued that, to some degree, the contract is “inflated in importance” because there are changes the city can make away from the bargaining table.
Emanuel’s budget calls for the Police Board’s budget to rise from $396,841 this year to $473,644 in 2017.
Lightfoot justified the modest increase by citing a “10-fold” increase in Freedom of Information requests and a case load she expects to “double or triple” next year.