Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson warned the troops this week that the U.S. Justice Department’s findings will be ugly and police officers shouldn’t take it personally.
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo doesn’t see it that way.
He’s hopeful the year-long federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald will lead to training, equipment and promotional reforms that ease the burden on rank-and-file officers.
“We’re not afraid of the report coming out. Why would we be? This is an examination of the department’s patterns and practices,” Angelo said Friday.
“There’s some parts that are going to upset everybody. I don’t think the department is gonna get a AAA-rating. No department that’s ever been examined has. Why would the Chicago Police Department be any different? It’s going to be expensive. [But] we’re looking forward to some of the findings.”
If the report follows the pattern that’s been established in every other major city police department examined, it will include a heavy focus on equipment, technology, training and promotional exams. All of the above pose major problems in Chicago.
“We’ve got police officers in a South Side district that are down 19 vehicles and have been down 19 vehicles for weeks. And that’s just one district that we know for sure,” Angelo said.
“We don’t have equipment in the vehicles that function. And then, when the cameras don’t work and the computers don’t work, they look at the officers as far as conspiring to not report the event. When the electronics [section] went to look at the utilization or availability of functioning equipment, they found 80 percent of these cameras weren’t connected properly to begin with. We don’t have rifle racks in a lot of cars.”
Rock-bottom police morale would also be improved by more frequent and “transparent” promotional exams, “so people know their score when they leave the room, as opposed to five months, six months, eight months after the exam is given,” Angelo said.
“Hopefully, it’s more often that these exams are offered to the membership. We’ve had members who sat in a beat car for 12 years before they were able to take their first sergeant’s exam. That’s half your career,” Angelo said.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that the Emanuel administration is bracing for next week’s release of a “findings letter” summarizing the federal investigation.
Given the pressure to complete and release the report before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, the investigation is unlikely to conclude with a signed-and-completed consent decree outlining mandated changes in police practices.
But what is on the table is a deal for the city and Justice Department to sign an “agreement in principle” to create a federal court-enforceable road forward with community input addressing investigatory findings from the DOJ investigation.
Trump campaigned on a promise to take the handcuffs off rank-and-file police officers. His attorney general-designate, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), is on record as opposing consent decrees. Sessions refused to commit to implementing the Chicago Police reforms during a meeting this week with Senate colleague Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
But, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed to implement the Justice Department reforms, whether or not Trump and Sessions pursue a consent decree mandating those changes.
After embracing a federal civil rights investigation he once called “misguided,” Emanuel has spent the better part of a year trying to stay one step ahead of the Justice Department by implementing suggestions made by his Task Force on Police Accountability.
The mayor abolished the Independent Police Review Authority, took the first steps toward building a new and better-funded system of police accountability and started releasing video and audio tied to police-involved shootings and serious injuries suffered in police custody “no more than 60 calendar days after” the incident occurs.
The Chicago Police Department is training veteran officers in de-escalation tactics and a new use-of-force policy and equipping officers with Tasers and body cameras.
With the murder rate soaring and the feds certain to demand more police supervision, Emanuel has promised to fill hundreds of vacancies and still hire 970 additional police officers over and above attrition.
Angelo said Friday he’s all for the two-year police hiring surge that marked a stunning about-face for a mayor who has relied on police overtime — to the tune of $116 million a year — in a failed attempt to get a handle on gang violence.
But it’s not enough. It will only return a depleted police force to the levels Emanuel inherited.
“It’s a good step in the right direction. No one’s complaining. We’d like to see it continue. [But], when I took office, I said, `We’re down 2,000 people.’ [When asked], `How many people do we need?’ I said I’d like to see 2,000,’”Angelo said.
“We lost over 400 last year that retired. We’re probably gonna lose 200 and something by June of this year. And who knows what the rest of the six months will bring us retirement-wise. So, we’re just kind of keeping up to what we would be just meeting attrition. We’ve got to hit the gas pedal on hiring to surpass the attrition rate.”
Last fall, Corporation Counsel Steve Patton assured aldermen that he had already shared with the Justice Department “specific changes that might relate to police discipline and accountability that we hope to achieve and intend to negotiate for” in the new police contract.
Angelo said he’s not concerned.
“Our contract doesn’t violate anyone’s civil rights. It’s not illegal,” he said.
“I don’t expected anything out of the DOJ to mandate a change in our agreement. They might suggest certain things. And those suggestions, the city will bring to us in negotiations.”
Angelo scoffed at the Task Force on Police Accountability report that accused the FOP contract of turning the “code of silence into official policy.”
“Except for the mental health and technology component, the task force report is at the bottom of my bird cage,” he said.