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Emanuel refuses to respond to police reform pressure from Lisa Madigan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's word can't be trusted, according to one of the groups behind a class-action lawsuit seeking a federal court monitor of the Chicago Police Department. | Sun-Times files

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is refusing to publicly respond to pressure from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to honor his January promise to agree to court oversight over the embattled Chicago Police Department.

“I’ve seen over the years how important a consent decree can be to keep everyone and everything on track,” Madigan told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday. “The city has a decades-long history of failing to address systemic problems that have plagued CPD. Without enforcement by the federal courts, I just fear that the story will be the same again this time.”

Madigan was the first to call for the U.S. Justice Department investigation of the police department that Emanuel had initially called “misguided” after the court-ordered release of the video of police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Now, she’s the lead singer in a chorus of police reformers who argue that Emanuel’s plan to avoid court oversight by having an independent monitor oversee department reforms isn’t enough to restore shattered public trust.

Madigan feels so strongly about the need for court oversight, she’s even holding open the possibility of suing Emanuel’s administration herself instead of forcing police reform advocates to take the lead. “A lawsuit is always the last option,” she said.

On Tuesday, the mayor was asked to respond to the pressure being applied by the attorney general, who is the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Emanuel, who has a close working relationship with Michael Madigan, refused to engage. Instead, he framed the issue only by articulating what he called the “three things we all agree on.”

“That we continue . . . making the fundamental reforms, as we have over the last 18 months. . . . That we need an independent set of eyes like the independent monitor that we talked about, an independent voice that will ensure that we never get weak in that process. And that we should have transparency in issuing those reports along the way to make sure that we never waiver,” the mayor said.

Even after being reminded that the attorney general just might lead a lawsuit aimed at forcing the city’s hand, Emanuel still didn’t directly respond.

Instead, he noted that President Donald Trump’s U.S. Justice Department is “a new department . . . from the one we negotiated the Obama-era reforms with. . . . We’ve got to deal with that fact.”

Madigan jumped head-first into the police reform controversy in an op-ed column that ran in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune under the headline, “Mayor, don’t do an end run around police reform.”

Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel has promised an “independent monitor with real credibility holding our feet to the fire and issuing regular public reports so the community can hold our feet to the fire” with “yet another backstop” that allows the Justice Department to “go into court and enforce the terms if we are breaching” it.

The attorney general shot that down.

“The problem with that summation is that the current U.S. Attorney General is, at best, very skeptical about the need for police reforms and consent decrees in these circumstances. So, it’s not credible that the current Department of Justice is likely to ever come in and try to enforce any agreement,” Madigan said.

Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU’s Illinois Police Practices Project, welcomed Madigan’s decision to inject herself into the reform conversation.

“She’s joining a lot of other voices who are trying to . . . push for a consent decree,” Sheley said. “The effort that it’s gonna take to . . . end the code of silence, to reform the problems with use of force is gonna be a long-term, difficult effort. It needs outside pressure to be accomplished.”