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Rahm: I put ‘wall’ between City Hall and CPD personnel decisions

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said City Hall needs to stay out of CPD personnel decisions. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel insisted Wednesday that he has built a “Chinese wall” to insulate the Chicago Police Department from personnel moves engineered by City Hall — and, therefore, would play no role in the decision to fire police officers accused of covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

For the third time this week, Emanuel was asked why he isn’t taking the lead in the code of silence investigation by himself calling for the firing and or discipline of officers connected to the Laquan McDonald cover-up.

“We have a history where the fifth floor weighed in on personnel decisions and they were (rife) with politics — one not too far away in historic terms,” Emanuel said.

He added: “The history of Chicago of fifth floor influence is lengthy and rich. So therefore I’ve put a Chinese wall between the fifth floor and those decisions. … If you have the city or the mayor weigh in, then your other question will be, why did you weigh in on a (personnel) decision?”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Inspector General Joe Ferguson has recommended 10 police officers be fired for giving accounts of the McDonald shooting that did not jibe with a dashcam video that clearly shows white police officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 rounds while the black teenager was walking away from police with a knife in his hand.

That’s in addition to Deputy Chief David McNaughton, who abruptly retired to avoid being fired in response to Ferguson’s scathing report.

McNaughton had signed off on Van Dyke’s use of force being proper, writing that McDonald had “continued to approach” Van Dyke, even though the video showed the opposite.

Earlier this week, Emanuel tried to distance himself from the unprecedented housecleaning.

“I won’t really have much to say about the particular issue until Eddie makes his decision. He’ll make that decision, and I’ll back that decision up,” the mayor said.

But, the mayor quickly added, “It’s very important to bring a level of transparency to the police department because I think that transparency builds trust and confidence in not only the oversight but also the culture and values of the police department. If you look at the history of Chicago, I think we have a new chapter in that effort.”

The mayor’s claims about having built a “Chinese wall” to insulate the Police Department from politically-motivated personnel decisions dictated by City Hall runs contrary to Emanuel’s reputation as a control freak.

Before he was abruptly fired for becoming, what Emanuel called a “distraction” after the Laquan McDonald shooting video was released, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was the mayor’s first call in the morning and last call at night. Virtually every move McCarthy made was cleared with the mayor or his staff.

But the mayor’s efforts to distance himself from the imminent police purge triggered by Ferguson’s scathing report apparently stems from the political tightrope that Emanuel is trying to walk.

For months, the mayor has been trying to get ahead of a federal civil rights investigation by crafting a new system of police accountability to restore public trust shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

And he has been trying just as desperately to coax Chicago Police officers concerned about being caught on the next YouTube video out of a defensive crouch blamed, in part, for a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings and a precipitous drop in police activity.

After police officers were ambushed by lone gunmen in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., Emanuel urged Chicagoans to “drop the hot rhetoric” and find a way to thank police officers who feel “almost hunted.”

The Fraternal Order of Police is urging rank-and-file police officers to turn down all requests for “non-mandatory overtime” over Labor Day weekend, to protest “continued disrespect of Chicago Police officers and the killing of officers across our country.”

Police morale is almost certain to plunge to a new low after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruled this week that emails pertaining to the police shooting of Laquan McDonald must be released to the public, even though they were transmitted on police officers’ personal cell phones.

Until the cops-as-robbers scandal in the Summerdale police district, the police superintendent’s office was located on the fifth floor of City Hall opposite the mayor’s office.

When then-Mayor Richard J. Daley hired former University of California at Berkeley criminologist O.W. Wilson to clean up the Police Department, one of the first things Wilson recommended was that the Police Department be moved out of City Hall.