Progressive Caucus turns up heat on Emanuel over police reforms

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Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) read aloud a list of shooting surges, ward by ward, to underscore her demand that the mayor’s promise to do more about violence was not good enough. | Sun-Times file photo

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus on Wednesday turned up the heat on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to articulate his plan to implement police reforms recommended by the U.S. Justice Department — with or without a consent decree.

Emanuel has signed an agreement in principle to negotiate a consent decree and has promised to implement the top-to-bottom reforms tied to the Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.

After meeting earlier this week with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the mayor said the Justice Department would “be here next week meeting with our people consistent with a consent decree and starting those conversations and continuing those conversations.”

That’s apparently not good enough for the 11-member Progressive Caucus that includes Emanuel’s harshest City Council critics.

They want to know specifically how Emanuel intends to proceed on a host of issues ranging from training, education and supervision of police officers all found lacking in the Justice Department report to establishing “codified rules of professional conduct and an accompanying discipline matrix.”

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins said top mayoral aides “reached out to every aldermen in the City Council by phone or by email” on Tuesday to invite them to briefings later this week “on exactly this topic.”

“Hopefully they’ll take a break from writing press releases to show up to the briefings we’ve already invited them to,” Collins wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The caucus also wants to know what the mayor intends to do to implement the all-important third piece of his new system of police accountability: a civilian oversight review board.

That was postponed indefinitely when the City Council approved Emanuel’s plan to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority and replace it with a more powerful and better-funded Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

“If the goal is to build public trust in the police department and criminal justice system at large, we can’t allow this reform process to be moved forward in a disorganized, piecemeal way,” South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said in a news release.

“Clarity and real leadership are needed in addressing this long-running crisis.”

South Side Ald. David Moore (17th) noted that “communities across Chicago” have demanded a civilian oversight board. There cannot be “meaningful police reform in our city” without it, he said.

“It is important that we know what, if any, communication the administration has had with local organizations towards that goal,” Moore said in the news release.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, demanded an update on negotiations aimed at hammering out a new police contract to gauge Emanuel’s commitment to remove measures that, he claims, “seriously impede and interfere with adequate and efficient police oversight and reform.”

“There are a clear set of changes that experts and community stakeholders have urged the city to demand . . . to ensure meaningful transparency and accountability for sergeants and officers, while still allowing them space to protect our neighborhoods,” Sawyer said in the release.

“We need assurance from the administration that the city is prioritizing these adjustments in the negotiations.”

Finally, the Progressive Caucus is demanding an update on the ever-changing cast of mayoral aides charged with shepherding police reform.

Key players on Emanuel’s law enforcement team who have recently passed through the revolving door include Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety Janey Rountree; Senior Policy Adviser Katie Hill; and Chicago Police Chief of the Bureau of Professional Standards Anne Kirkpatrick.

“We need to know who the administration plans to bring in, and when, to make sure we don’t lose momentum and that nothing falls through the cracks,” Progressive Caucus Chair Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said in the release.

“This initiative is too important to become a rudderless ship. Whoever the team is, it is essential that they be both deeply knowledgeable about the matters in question and highly competent.”

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