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EDITORIAL: Now’s your best chance to have your say on Chicago Police reform

The Chicago Police Department logo | File photo

Speak now or forever hold your peace.

So says the minister at the wedding, and it’s excellent advice now.

Chicago is about to embark on a historic overhaul of the training, practices and accountability of the Chicago Police Department, and you have until Friday to offer your ideas for reform. You can go online and read a draft of the proposed reforms, negotiated between City Hall and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and add your thoughts. Go to: chicagopoliceconsentdecree.org.

OPINION

Madigan’s office will file the drafted consent decree, as it is called, in federal court, where it will become enforceable by a federal judge. An independent monitor will oversee the reform process, and the city will be compelled to follow through.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. likely will invite further comments and hold a public hearing on the decree, but the earlier you weigh in, the more likely your suggestions will be reflected in the final plan.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union suggested 12 revisions, which taken together seem to suggest that a final version of the consent decree might still be a ways down the road.

In one potentially major reform, the ACLU calls on giving Chicago’s 911 emergency operators alternatives to dispatching police officers to respond to “behavior health crisis calls” whenever possible. Operators would refer callers, in some cases, directly to social service drop-in centers, overnight housing groups and the like.

The ACLU suggests that the city also create mobile response teams staffed by social workers and mental health professionals, giving 911 operators another alternative to sending in the police.

In a second and related recommendation, the ACLU calls on revising the consent decree to set standards for how the police interact with people with disabilities. A person with autism might not respond to a police order immediately. A person having a seizure is unable to follow instructions.

“This is a very big issue for people with disabilities,” Marca Bristo, president and CEO of Access Living in Chicago, explained to us. “Many incidents begin when the police encounter a person whose behavior is different than typical and they overreact. People with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities, autism, and the deaf are particularly at risk.

“There are numerous incidents, regularly in the news, of a situation like this escalating and the police shoot and kill the person. This occurs disproportionately to people of color.”

Chicago, Bristo said, needs to learn the “successful de-escalation interventions“ employed in other cities — often not involving the police — to deal with “mental health meltdowns.”

To understand the necessity for yet a third major reform proposed by the ACLU, consider this scenario:

You are on trial for some crime. A witness against you is a police officer. The officer has a documented history of lying in police reports and on the witness stand. But you and your lawyer or public defender don’t know that. That information, though of obvious importance to your defense, has not been shared with you.

To address this injustice, the ACLU argues, the consent decree should require that CPD share with prosecutors and public defenders information when an officer has been disciplined for misconduct or a judge has found that the officer violated the constitution.

It says something tragic about the quality of the justice system in Cook County that this is not already standard procedure.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.