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Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks after a City Council meeting on May 24, 2017. He said on Monday, June 6, that he’s not backing away from his January commitment to negotiate a court-enforced consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends police reform plan

SHARE Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends police reform plan
SHARE Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends police reform plan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday portrayed a memorandum of agreement to have an independent monitor oversee Chicago Police reform as the next best thing to court oversight opposed by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Emanuel said he’s not backing away from his January commitment to negotiate a court-enforced consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.

He’s simply recognizing the political reality that Sessions’ decision to review and retreat from police reform agreements nationwide has left the Chicago Police Department on the dance floor without a partner.

“There’s many roads to reform, but they all hit the same destination. The model that we’re looking at — a memo of agreement — is just exactly what Chuck Ramsey did with Washington, D.C. You have an outside monitor, an independent set of eyes, that will help us implement the very principles that we negotiated with the Obama Justice Department,” the mayor said.

“There’s a consent decree. There’s a memo of agreement. There’s a collaborative agreement,” Emanuel said. “This is the model that is exactly the right way. Independent set of eyes to help implement exactly what we agreed to with the Obama Justice Department. Given where things are, given that there was an election. This allows us to achieve the same goal.”

Ramsey could not be reached for comment.

Lori Lightfoot co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability that served as a prelude to the Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.

She argued that Emanuel can only work with the cards he’s been dealt.

“I hate to call it a retreat, but it’s clearly different, in part, because you’ve got a Department of Justice that is hostile to consent decrees,” Lightfoot said.

“The Jeff Sessions Department of Justice has made it very clear that they view consent decrees as antithetical to their relationship with local police,” she said. “Given that reality, which is that a consent decree is not likely in the offing, what is the next best thing that can be done to make sure that reform is real and meaningful and fully funded in Chicago?”

Lightfoot said an independent monitor can be that “next best thing,” but only if the memorandum of agreement includes rigid timelines and a multiyear commitment to spend “tens of millions of dollars” to implement specific goals that include a long-stalled early intervention system.

There also needs to be a process for resolving “breaches” that may include arbitration.

“The DOJ has said, `We don’t like consent decrees.’ What is the likelihood that the Department of Justice is actually gonna take the Chicago Police Department into court if there’s a breach and that is the only enforcement mechanism?” she said.

Equally important, Lightfoot said, is “transparency” and input from the same stakeholders with whom the city negotiated before abolishing the Independent Police Review Authority and replacing it with a Civilian Office of Police Accountabilit​y.​

“This is not a process that can be unilaterally negotiated by the mayor himself. This is a process that is owned by many stakeholders,” she said. “The mayor has to engage those stakeholders in order for any agreement to have any legitimacy whatsoever. If that process of engagement doesn’t happen, they can have the greatest agreement in the world and it will have zero legitimacy in Chicago and that would be a tragic loss,” she said.

Five months after the Obama administration issued its blistering critique of the Chicago Police Department, the Emanuel administration disclosed late Friday that it has submitted a “memorandum of agreement” to have an independent monitor to oversee police reforms.

Newly elected Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham, who has criticized the DOJ report and cheered Sessions’ retreat from consent decrees, said Monday he has been told only one thing about the memorandum.

“They’ve told me they’re going to buy new cars and that there is going to be things to improve the Police Department,” Graham said.

“I’m glad they’re buying cars. . . . That’s what the Police Department needs. And it’s what our officers need. There are officers who, at shift change, are standing around waiting for cars. . . . We don’t have enough cars.”

Top mayoral aides refused to release a copy of the proposed memorandum of agreement pending approval from DOJ.

But two top mayoral aides, who asked to remain anonymous, insisted that it codifies the 2017 commitments already made in the previously released “Framework for Reform” and gives the city “a specific period of time to create a work plan for years two and three.”

If the Police Department “materially breaches” the agreement, the independent monitor can “publicly make a finding of that breach and DOJ can go into federal court to enforce the terms of the agreement through a federal lawsuit,” a top mayoral aide said.

But City Hall insists it won’t come to that.

“If there was a specific commitment that the city was not moving forward on, the monitor will be issuing public reports on a regular basis that will identify that as a failing on the part of the city,” a mayoral aide said. “If it rises to the level of a breach, the monitor can give the city the opportunity to fix it. . . . It’s not an arbitration necessarily. But it’s a mechanism short of having to use the courts.”

Another top mayoral aide added, “Public reporting is probably the most powerful weapon that a monitor has. It’s pretty rare that a monitor actually has to go to court . . . because of the public pressure.”

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