Emanuel says jury’s work is over, but city’s job to reform CPD goes on

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Scott Olson Getty Images

The jury has done its work by convicting Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, but the city’s work to make police reform stick is “ahead of us,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday.

Emanuel did not pass judgment on whether he agreed with the jury’s decision to convict the white police officer who killed Laquan McDonald of second-degree murder and sixteen counts of aggravated battery — one count for every one of the shots he fired into the body of the black teenager.

Nor did the mayor want to focus on how his own decision to withhold the McDonald shooting video until a judge ordered the city to release it had defined his second-term and, perhaps, played a role in his decision to pull the plug on his own re-election bid.

“We followed a policy. We’ve made fundamental changes now so, when something happens like on Jeffery and 71st, videotapes are put out much quicker,” the mayor said.

“I think you know the changes. And once the judge made a decision, we made an immediate response to it and didn’t actually fight it.”

Instead of dwelling on his own mistakes, Emanuel focused on the long road toward reforming the Chicago Police Department that will drag on –– under the watchful eye of a federal monitor –– long after he leaves the mayor’s office next May.

“The jury has spoken, but we are not done with our work….Our work is ahead of us. Although we’ve done a lot over the last two years, we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Emanuel said.

“My entire focus is to look forward, make the changes that are necessary, so that we see through something that is lasting and fundamental that the city has not accomplished in 100 years and seven attempts.”

Emanuel said he’s proud of the work that’s already been done.

Chicago police officers now have body cameras and Tasers. The Chicago Police Department has a new use-of-force policy. Officers are being trained and re-trained on de-escalation tactics and how to distinguish between a mental health crisis and a crime-related call.

There’s a now pending consent decree with a federal monitor who should be chosen and in place by the end of the year, the mayor said.

But the long road toward rebuilding public trust between citizens and police shattered by the police shooting of McDonald drags on.

So does the difficult job of convincing Chicago police officers concerned about being caught on the next YouTube video to get out of their defensive crouch and become pro-active again.

The Fraternal Order of Police has accused Emanuel of slow-walking negotiations on a new police contract to replace the agreement that expired more than eighteen months ago.

Meanwhile, the City Council’s Black Caucus is threatening to hold up ratification of any police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability.”

Those impediments include prohibiting anonymous complaints, allowing officers to change statements after reviewing video and requiring sworn affidavits.

On Monday, Emanuel stopped short of promising to deliver a new police contract before leaving office.

But he said, “It takes two to tango…Have I punted on a single thing? If people want to work together, I’m ready to work together. But I’m gonna be clear: You’re not gonna Xerox past contracts that don’t make fundamental changes that are not consistent with our overall goals.”

The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police has accused the jury that convicted Van Dyke of being “duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant.”

State Lodge President Chris Southwood called it a “sham trial and shameful verdict” that sends a message to “every law enforcement officer in America that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back.”

On Monday, Emanuel argued that the FOP is only “one voice.” It’s not the only voice.

“I have a lot of respect for the rank-and-file [and] their commitment to the city. This is not a job to them. This is a calling. It’s an honor to serve. They live in this city. And I believe that they are professional in their commitment to seeing through the type of not only changes, but the safety in every part of the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.

“What you want is a professional, pro-active police department — not reactive. Which is why I’ve been adamant that any of the changes…have to be done with our officers — not to them so they’re bought into the reforms….If you do it from the top down, I don’t think it works.”

Emanuel has emphatically denied keeping the dashcam video of the shooting under wraps to get past the election.

But he has acknowledged that he “added to the suspicion and distrust” of everyday Chicagoans by blindly following the city’s long-standing practice of withholding shooting videos to avoid compromising ongoing criminal investigations.

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