Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) speaks at a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall in 2015. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

Alderman demands Emanuel relax police hiring standards now

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An influential alderman is demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel relax police hiring standards before the April 1 and 2 police exam to attract more minorities at a time of high crime and deep distrust.

Earlier this week, Emanuel acknowledged that he would have to work “double hard” to convince minorities to apply and “show the Police Department is a different police department” than the one the U.S. Justice Department has condemned as biased.

Now, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) is pronouncing the unprecedented minority outreach campaign as doomed to failure without immediate changes to the hiring process itself.

Beale, former longtime chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, reiterated his longstanding claim that background checks, credit history searches and psychological exams administered to police candidates are the “tools used to weed out and disqualify” minorities.

“If you have outstanding debt, you could be disqualified. It’s a set-up. The African-American community has the highest unemployment rate. If you don’t have a job, of course you’re gonna have bad credit,” Beale said, citing the case of a constituent who was disqualified for having defaulted on a student loan.

“The way they administer the psychological exam has to change. Not just the questions. One person can disqualify a candidate just because. It should be a panel of people. And if a person did something 20 years ago and it was a minor offense, those people need to be considered.”

Beale noted that Emanuel has cracked the door open to changing the hiring process. But, the alderman said, “We can’t talk about it. We have to do it right now. If not, we’re just spinning our wheels. The [Justice Department] report is not the impediment. The hiring process is.”

The mayor’s office was non-committal while reaffirming Emanuel’s commitment to a Police Department “reflective of the city it serves.”

“The Police Department and Department of Human Resources have made adjustments to pre-employment steps, as well as taken a fresh look at the background check standards to evaluate which, if any, of these standards are outdated, unfair or not reflective of Chicago’s values,” the mayor’s office said in an emailed statement.

“CPD continues to hold high standards for admittance to the Academy and is working in concert with best practices to improve training and enhance the support available for officers to be successful as they partner with, serve and protect communities.”

Last month, Emanuel opened the door to allowing candidates with minor drug and criminal offenses and poor dubious credit histories to become Chicago Police officers.

That followed a recommendation from now-former President Barack Obama’s Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement Initiative and a ringing endorsement by three powerful aldermen: Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and the chairman of the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucuses.

The Fraternal Order of Police reacted angrily.

At a time when police officers across the nation have “never been this scrutinized,” FOP President Dean Angelo said the Chicago Police Department should be looking at raising the bar — not lowering it.

Angelo portrayed the campaign as part of a dangerous decline in standards that includes other elements of the criminal justice system.

“They’re minimizing criminal activity across the board in Cook County — whether it’s the jail and now the court system. And now, it’s almost as if [they’re saying], ‘Let’s get those people through the turn-style and into the police academy. To us, that makes no sense at all,” Angelo said then.

Also on Friday, Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, who co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability, urged the mayor to appoint a “SWAT team” of employees to implement reforms recommended by the Justice Department whether or not President Donald Trump and his nominee for Attorney General, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), pursue a consent decree and the hiring of a federal monitor.

“The mayor … needs to take ownership and leadership of this issue. The superintendent needs to take ownership and leadership of this issue. There needs to be a team of folks who are subject matter experts who can go into the department and start making the changes that need to get done,” Lightfoot said during a taping of the WBBM-AM Radio program, “At Issue,” to be broadcast at 9:30 am. and 9:30 pm. Sunday.

“They need to be almost a SWAT team inside CPD looking at the various pieces. There’s training. There’s internal legitimacy. There’s external legitimacy. There’s accountability issues. There’s HR issues, promotions, recruiting. All of those are things people who are experts in local policing need to get their arms around take charge of. We just need a leader who’s gonna say, ‘Yes, this is going to happen.’”

Seventeen months ago, Beale made similar claims about the impact of independently administered background checks and psychological exams on minority candidates, only to be shot down by then Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

“We have to give psychological exams to people who we’re going to give guns to,” McCarthy said then.

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