For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Friday is a day of reckoning.
He has known this day was coming and has spent the last year trying to stay one step ahead of a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department he once called “misguided.”
But now, it’s time for Emanuel to take his medicine — by listening to Loretta Lynch, the attorney general of the United States, accuse his police department of violating the civil rights of minority citizens and signing an “agreement in principle” to negotiate specific reforms.
The report and signed agreement put Emanuel in a political box.
The mayor will be under enormous pressure to implement the federal reforms, whether or not President-elect Donald Trump and his attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, pursue a consent decree mandating those changes.
If the mayor doesn’t, civil rights groups could file a lawsuit to force the issue.
Emanuel also stands no chance of restoring public trust in the black community, shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, unless he leads the charge toward eliminating police abuses that have dragged on for decades.
Although there’s no turning back on the road to police reform, the consequences of Friday’s announcement could be enormous for Emanuel.
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His unprecedented minority outreach campaign aimed at diversifying the police department at a time of high crime and deep distrust could get more difficult if blacks and Hispanics don’t want to join a department branded as biased.
“We’re already having a challenge getting applicants of color to apply— so much so that I’m offering a recruitment session in my office next week just to try to spur interest,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.
If the federal report triggers yet another wave of police retirements, Emanuel may also have a tougher time delivering on his ambitious promise to hire 970 additional police officers over and above attrition.
The mayor has acknowledged that, no matter how many police officers he hires, it won’t be enough to stop a 60 percent surge in homicides unless Chicago Police officers can be coaxed out of a defensive crouch, blamed for a precipitous drop in police activity.
The federal report is likely to make that job more difficult, too.
That’s apparently why, while reaffirming his commitment to police reform, Emanuel stopped short of promising to turn the agreement in principle into a consent decree.
“There’s a gap between a report and a consent decree. . . . There’s 20-plus cities that have gone through some agreement with Justice Department to get to a consent decree that has some oversight. It’s a very intricate process you just can’t be flippant about,” the mayor said.
“You obviously know where the incoming attorney general is. We’re gonna work with the new administration. But we’re also gonna do what’s in our interest,” he said.
Three times, the mayor was asked about a consent decree similar to the one that culminated in the appointment of a federal monitor who rode herd over city hiring for nearly a decade after the city hiring scandal.
Three times, the mayor refused to directly answer the question.
“My outlook is like on the task force: Embrace what they say. Make the changes that I think are in our self-interest. One of the things officers want is not just training to become a police officer, but ongoing training. That’s in our self-interest,” the mayor said.
“[But] I want to be clear about something: This is not being done to the police. I’m not gonna participate in us, them, you. We want to give our officers certainty in maintaining and achieving the highest professional standards because that is how we also ensure that they’re pro-active and engaged in public safety,” Emanuel said. “If it is interpreted like it has in other cities and ends up in a reactive mode, we’re not gonna get the public safety.”
Already, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo has his nose out of joint because of the mayor’s decision to sign an agreement in principle to implement a report the union has not seen.
He argued that Chicago Police officers have been “put in the cross hairs improperly” since the scathing report issued by Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability that’s expected to look tame in comparison to the federal report.
Emanuel took that earlier report and ran with it.
But critics contend that some of the most important recommendations have not been implemented.
They include an early intervention system to pinpoint problem officers; the hiring of a chief diversity officer; revival of a moribund community policing program; changes to a police contract that “turns the code of silence into official policy” and creation of a community oversight board to ride herd over police accountability.
Now Emanuel will be under the gun to implement those changes and more — and somehow find the money to pay for it all without going back to beleaguered Chicago taxpayers reeling from tax increases imposed to solve the city’s pension crisis.
“We know we have some things that have to get done to make changes. It’s in our interest. There is no going back to a day when we’re not gonna do that,” he said.