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Ferguson brands FOP leak of consent decree ‘troubling’ and ‘complicating’

Joseph Lipari chats with Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) at City Hall on Thursday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Inspector General Joe Ferguson on Thursday branded as “troubling” and “complicating” the leak of a draft consent decree outlining terms for federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department and said it “warrants further inquiry.”

Mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot wants a presiding federal judge to investigate the leak to Fox News that she believes is part of an ongoing effort by the Fraternal Order of Police to derail a consent degree the city has spent the last year negotiating with retiring Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Ferguson joined Lightfoot in co-chairing the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability. Its blistering critique of the Chicago Police Department after the police shooting of Laquan McDonald set the stage for the U.S. Justice Department to do the same and laid the groundwork for federal court oversight.

On Thursday, Ferguson was asked to weigh in on the controversy before the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety confirmed his choice of Joseph Lipari as Chicago’s new, $137,052-a-year deputy inspector general for public safety.

“It’s complicating for sure and troubling and it really does warrant further inquiry,” Ferguson said.

The inspector general said he doesn’t know enough about what the FOP’s “ultimate objectives and motives are in this particular play.”

But he said, “There is a well-established process for negotiating and presenting this and it jumped the process. That just complicates an already extremely complicated task. Hopefully, we can get this back on the rails and move forward the way the process has been designed.”

Ferguson said the consent decree needs to be “published” in time for a “30-day notice and comment period” that allows public input to be incorporated into the draft that must be submitted to a federal judge by a Sept. 1 deadline.

The FOP has made it clear they will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into federal court oversight. They don’t want a consent decree for fear it would tie the hands of police officers and subject, even legitimate policing to unwarranted scrutiny.

“That’s why it’s important that we have a federal judge to play referee,” Ferguson said.

An assistant inspector general riding herd over the New York Police Department, Lipari replaces Laura Kunard, who resigned as deputy inspector general for public safety after just six months on the job.

Ferguson said he chose Lipari because he is “both an inside and an outside guy” with a “breadth of his experience” in policing and civilian oversight.

“Given his work in Chicago and in Syracuse as well, he sort of stood in that space already. That situates him to move in whatever direction ultimately City Hall and the City Council decide,” Ferguson said.

“His time in Chicago has brought him into contact with the community, familiarity with the Chicago Police Department, particularly the history,” he said. “But far more important is his professional experience in the NYPD IG’s office upon which our section was modeled.”

Chicago is still struggling to decide precisely what form civilian oversight should take. Four different versions of an ordinance are still being considered.

“There’s a whole panoply of powers that people are seeking out there. I don’t think all of them are needed. Some mix of them are needed. But that’s something that really needs to be worked out with the City Council, the mayor’s office and with leading community organizations,” Ferguson said. “The important thing is that this is not a Potemkin Village. That this is real and substantive. That the voice of the community actually has a place of prominence and amplification to be heard and engaged.”

Under questioning from aldermen, Lipari said he sees his role as accessing and analyzing data to provide “a common narrative” about what the policing problems are in Chicago.

“If you can have that conversation around facts and data as opposed to feelings, impressions and anecdotes, it helps calm the waters and helps both sides approach this in a solution-oriented [way], instead of a conflict-oriented approach,” Lipari said. “There’s gonna be setbacks along the way. It won’t be quick. It won’t be easy. But we have to stay at it. … Over time, I do think we can get there.”