Aldermen demand police contract change to restore public trust

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Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announced in September that the department will hire 970 new police officers over the next two years. | Sun-Times file photo

Corporation Counsel Steve Patton was admonished Friday to renegotiate a police contract that stands as an impediment to punishing police wrongdoing and restoring public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Wrapping up two weeks of City Council budget hearings, Patton said he expects the U.S. Justice Department to complete its investigation of the Chicago Police Department’s “patterns and practices” within the next few months.

The feds would then draft a report recommending specific changes to police training, supervision and operations as well as changes to the police contract. That would be followed by months of negotiations to hammer out a consent decree implementing the changes.

But Patton disclosed Friday that he’s already working hand-in-glove with the Justice Department when it comes to negotiating a new police contract to replace the one that expires on June 30.

Already, the Emanuel administration has spent $2.6 million in legal fees as officials “busted our butts” to provide the mountains of documents demanded by the feds in record time, the corporation counsel said.

City corporation counsel Stephen Patton was urged on Friday by members of the Chicago City Council to renegotiate a contract with the Fraternal Order of Police that some see as an impediment to reform efforts. | Sun-Times file photo

City corporation counsel Stephen Patton was urged on Friday by members of the Chicago City Council to renegotiate a contract with the Fraternal Order of Police that some see as an impediment to reform efforts. | Sun-Times file photo

“We have shared with them the specific changes that might relate to police discipline and accountability that we hope to achieve and intend to negotiate for,” Patton said.

“It’s not gonna be rocket science. It follows very closely what was in the Task Force [on Police Accountability] report.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former longtime chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, argued that it’s an “injustice” to ask Chicago taxpayers to shell out more than $500 million to settle police abuse cases over the last decade when there was “never any disciplinary action to back up those settlements” because the contract “gets in the way.”

The tab for police abuse cases this year was pegged at $28.3 million.

“If we’re gonna rebuild the trust, you can’t have a contract that means nothing if someone does something wrong and they’re not punished or held accountable for their wrongdoing,” Beale said.

“I’m just hoping that cooler heads prevail and we sit down and stop protecting wrongdoing. 99.9 percent of the officers out there are doing a helluva job every single day. It’s that 0.1 percent that taints the whole process. If that contract protects that 0.1 percent, that’s wrong. That 0.1 percent needs to be dealt with.”

Patton agreed. But, he reminded Beale that negotiations are a two-way street and contract changes will not come easily.

“The more you find out about it, the more you understand there’s two sides to every pancake. It’s not like somebody just woke up and came up with some really extremely wacko idea and said, ‘Let’s put that in the contract.’ It was the subject of back-and-forth,” he said.

“It’s giving that balance. We know what we would like to see changed in the contract and there’s a commitment to negotiate in good faith to try to achieve those. But it’s not unilateral.”

Ald. Anthony Beale said it is important that the contract with Chicago Police officers “stop protecting wrongdoing.” | Sun-Times file photo

Ald. Anthony Beale said it is important that the contract with Chicago Police officers “stop protecting wrongdoing.” | Sun-Times file photo

Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo and FOP attorney Brian Hlavin could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, the Task Force on Police Accountability appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the day Police Supt. Garry McCarthy was fired released a blistering, 190-page report that condemned a collective bargaining agreement that, it claimed, turns a “code of silence into official policy.”

Specifically, the task force took aim at language in the police contract that makes it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and requires complaint records to be destroyed.

Angelo responded to the report by saying there will be changes to the rigid process that must be followed to discipline wayward officers, only if the city gives the union something in return.

He has dismissed anonymous complaints as “generally baseless.”

“Our contract protects all of our members and secures just cause in the process of discipline and separation and any other type of internal or external allegations. Those protections are there because of abuse that has occurred in the past discipline-wise,” he said.

“Affidavits are there to protect officers from unfounded or just arbitrary allegations. If you and I are working in a gang-infested area and we’re constantly locking people up for narcotics and guns and confiscating money, their way to get back at you is to complain. If you don’t have a process in place where you have to identify yourself and actively participate in allegations you’re making against an officer, you could just speed-dial complaint after complaint to IPRA. You could complain nonstop.”

As for the rule giving officers 24 hours before they have to give a statement about a shooting, Angelo has said it’s not unusual. He has noted the federal government has a 72-hour time-out for officers involved in shootings. Other big-city police departments have a 48-hour waiting period.

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