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ACLU condemns Emanuel’s plan as ‘hostile to police reform’

The Chicago Police Department logo | File photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to have an independent monitor oversee the Chicago Police Department was condemned Wednesday as a “non-starter” and “hostile to police reform.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois demanded that Emanuel honor the commitment he made in January to negotiate “oversight by the federal judiciary.”

ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka was asked whether the group was merely condemning the mayor’s plan or threatening to go to court to force Emanuel to negotiate a consent decree.

“We haven’t made a final decision on that. But we’re looking at every option,” Yohnka said.

The former head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice under President Obama agreed with the ACLU.

“History has demonstrated that memoranda of agreement, which are not court-enforceable, are not robust enough to remedy longstanding problems,” said Vanita Gupta, who is now president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Vanita Gupta (left), shown with then- Attorney General Loretta Lynch, said a court-enforced consent decree is the best way to ensure true reform at the Chicago Police Department. | Associated Press file photo
Vanita Gupta (left), shown with then- Attorney General Loretta Lynch, said a court-enforced consent decree is the best way to ensure true reform at the Chicago Police Department. | Associated Press file photo

“Given the size of the Chicago Police Department and the severity of the accountability and use of force problems that were thoroughly documented in the findings report, a memorandum of agreement in this matter will become yet another set of recommendations for the Chicago Police Department that will have no teeth.”

Earlier Wednesday, the ACLU had issued a news release reacting to the proposal.

“The only real path to police reform in Chicago is through a consent decree overseen by a federal judge,” Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU’s of Illinois Police Practices Project, was quoted saying in that release. “The city is proposing to sign a set of promises with a DOJ that is hostile to real police reform. … This proposal is a non-starter for anyone committed to real reform of Chicago’s broken system of policing.”

Although Chicago has cited Cincinnati as a model, Sheley noted that stakeholders there “had a seat at the table throughout the process and were able to enforce the agreement in federal court.”

That’s not what happened in Chicago. The Emanuel administration and the Department of Justice have been negotiating privately for months. The city’s announcement late Friday that an agreement was in the works blindsided police reform advocates.

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins issued an emailed statement Wednesday calling the ACLU’s critique a distraction. “This is a discussion about a framework when the discussion should be about the substantive reforms,” he wrote.

Also Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department issued its first public comment about the proposed memorandum of agreement.

“The City of Chicago sent the Justice Department their proposed memorandum of understanding last week,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said. “There is no agreement at this time. We look forward to working with the City to finding a resolution that promotes public safety and protects civil rights.”

Trump campaigned, with support from the national FOP, on a law-and-order promise to take the shackles off police officers and return to stop-and-frisk policing.

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions dealt what appeared to be a death blow to Emanuel’s January commitment to negotiate a court-enforced consent decree culminating in the hiring of a federal monitor to make certain police reforms are implemented in a timely fashion. It came in a two-page Justice Department memo ordering underlings to “immediately review all department activities,” including “contemplated consent decrees” with local law enforcement agencies.

The Emanuel administration has refused to release the memorandum of agreement pending approval from the DOJ.

Earlier this week, top mayoral aides acknowledged that the memorandum of agreement codifies the 2017 commitments already made and included in the Chicago Police Department’s so-called “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, both Emanuel aides argued that it’s unlikely to come to that.

“If it rises to the level of a breach, the monitor can give the city the opportunity to fix it. We would have to lay out exactly what we are doing in terms of devoting the necessary resources so you avoid it getting to the point of having to go into court,” one Emanuel aide said.