Lost amid Donald Trump’s hot takes on life in Chicago during last week’s presidential debate, Hillary Clinton made a statement that could sound overly optimistic to many people here in the city of her birth.
“We also have to recognize, in addition to the challenges that we face with policing, there are so many good, brave police officers who equally want reform,” she said.
Many good and brave officers? No doubt.
You have to be very brave to even show up for work at the Chicago Police Department, especially these days. Let’s also put aside the alleged “Ferguson effect” and assume the vast majority still do the job as well as they can.
But all these officers who Clinton says “want reform”?
If they’re really out there, it’s been hard to hear them in the debate that’s roiled politics here since last November, when the dashcam video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s death in a hail of 16 CPD bullets became public.
The police union here again showed its reflexive opposition to reform this week, as aldermen debated Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to replace the feeble Independent Police Review Authority with a new agency.
The aldermen who ate sandwiches in the room behind the Council chambers during a meeting on the ordinance Tuesday balked when asked if Chicago cops are ready for reform.
One alderman instead told me to look at the statement posted this week on the Facebook page of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Chicago lodge.
“The lodge is strongly encouraging that each and every member of the Chicago Police Department (not just FOP members) contact their alderman and tell them to VOTE NO on the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability ordinance,” the FOP said.
“The lodge has attempted to work with the city on developing fair and impartial language, which has apparently fallen on deaf ears. The city refuses to consider meaningful input from the lodge.”
It remains to be seen whether the mayor’s proposal succeeds in bringing about meaningful reform.
But would the FOP agree to anything that would truly result in greater police accountability?
Former Emanuel top cop Garry McCarthy’s speech last month at the City Club of Chicago seemed far more in tune with police sentiment than Clinton’s statement. McCarthy bemoaned what he called “the consequences of satiating the outrage in the community.”
“Finally someone has said it,” a police officer responded when I relayed McCarthy’s comments on Twitter. “Not Danny boy, though. He’s all for the animals causing all of this.”
Ald. Nicholas Sposato, whose 38th Ward is home to many police department employees, readily concedes there aren’t many officers in favor of reform.
“Nobody’s said that to me,” Sposato says. “Police officers are not happy with Hillary. They feel vilified out there.”
But some say the police union doesn’t represent the sentiments of all, or even most, of the city’s cops.
A small group of officers are responsible for most misconduct, says Ald. Willie Cochran (20th).
“The professional officers who follow the guidelines and respect the communities out there — I don’t think they are resistant to reform, and I don’t believe they are lying down on the job,” says Cochran, a former CPD sergeant who worked in “three of the four toughest districts.”
There’s great diversity in the viewpoints among rank-and-file officers in large departments across the country, says Walter Katz, the San Jose, California, independent police monitor who came here last month to speak to the City Council in favor of the COPA ordinance.
“Those voices which are willing to embrace reform are being swamped out by the more angry tone and the more defensive tone,” Katz says.
It’s natural to close ranks in the face of heated rhetoric and even anti-police violence.
With all the videotaped evidence of CPD abuses, though, it would be refreshing to finally hear more officers acknowledge that fundamental change is needed.