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Emanuel hires San Jose police auditor as police liaison

Walter Katz, right, talks to reporters after being introduced as San Jose's independent police auditor by Mayor Sam Liccardo, left, in 2015. (Photo by Karl Mondon courtesy of Bay Area News Group)

The independent police auditor for San Jose, California, said Monday he agreed to take a “small” pay cut to accept a job he called the “biggest policing challenge in America” — as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s point-person for public safety.

Walter Katz, 50, will become Emanuel’s $165,000-a-year deputy chief of staff for public safety and chief liaison with the Chicago Police Department. He replaces Janey Rountree, who left on the day the U.S. Justice Department released its scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.

Katz will be asked to help turn an agreement in principle with the Justice Department into a detailed consent decree that culminates in the hiring of a federal monitor to ride herd over the Chicago Police Department.

If President Donald Trump chooses not to pursue a consent decree, Katz’s job will be to help Emanuel enact the sweeping police reforms recommended by the Justice Department and deliver on the mayor’s two-year promise to hire, train and equip 970 police additional police officers over and above attrition.

The new police liaison must also help to deliver the third and elusive final piece of Emanuel’s police accountability overhaul: the appointment of a civilian oversight board that will choose a permanent chief for the newly-created Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

“This is the biggest policing challenge in America right now. It’s the combination of two things happening at the same time. The significant increase in gun homicides [and] the issues identified by the Department of Justice,” Katz said Monday.

“The result is a crisis of confidence. … Many in the community have a low level of trust in policing. When you have that and there is a … perception that police are not legitimate, people are less likely to cooperate as witnesses. Less likely to come forward. One has to increase trust and confidence to bring folks back so they’re willing to cooperate with police. That’s an ongoing dialogue between the police and the community. I want to be part of helping that conversation.”

Walter Katz. Photo courtesy of Bay Area News Group
Walter Katz. Photo courtesy of Bay Area News Group

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, who co-chaired Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability, said she doesn’t know Katz personally, but he has been told that he is “very smart and able.”

But, she argued that Emanuel “needs to back-stop” Katz with “somebody who’s actually got local law enforcement experience.”

“You need people who can do the policy work. … He’s got that background. But, you also need somebody who the police officers are going to respect because they bring a similar background. You need someone with the experience having actually been in local law enforcement to make sure you’re appreciating the nuances,” she said.

“Historically, there’s always been somebody with that background that has served that function.”

After hearing from a “startling cross-section” of Chicagoans who view police officers as racist, Lightfoot has made the case for “some kind of racial reconciliation” that would allow Chicagoans who have felt harassed or disrespected by police to publicly air their grievances across the table from police brass.

On Monday, Katz withheld judgment on whether a racial reconciliation process was needed. Nor would he say whether the community oversight board should be elected or appointed and, if appointed, whether the mayor should control a majority.

He would only say, “Community input is very important. The mayor recognizes that.”

As San Jose’s independent police auditor, Katz directed independent oversight of police misconduct investigations. His resume also includes stints as deputy inspector general overseeing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and as a public defender in Los Angeles.

He has moonlighted with a consulting firm that has monitored consent decrees in Cleveland and New Orleans, but has no intention of continuing that work after he joins Emanuel’s staff on April 10.

On Monday, Katz was asked whether he believes there will be a consent decree in Chicago and whether there needs to be one in order to implement the DOJ’s top-to-bottom reforms.

“Consent decrees have done well. They do have a positive benefit—both for police departments and for the communities they police,” he said.

“I don’t know if there will be one. With the new administration, it’s an open question. Since I have not been part of those conversations which have begun, I can’t really guess what’s going to happen next.”