Chicago police ‘failed’ to make big reforms to cops in schools program, IG says

The city inspector general said police have not addressed the issue with the immediacy demanded by the community.

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A new report from the Inspector General says police need to do more to address problems in the school resource officer program.

Sun-Times files

Chicago police have failed to address numerous systemic issues concerning the oversight and training of police officers assigned to the city’s public schools, according to a review by the city’s Office of the Inspector General of policy recommendations the office made last year.

The assessment, obtained by the Sun-Times ahead of its release to the public Thursday, found that the police department has only carried out a single recommendation from the September report, despite a call from the Inspector General’s Office for police to “immediately” implement its proposed reforms.

“Overall, CPD has failed to undertake action with the immediacy called for by the OIG or consonant with the deep community consternation over the method, manner, means and, in some quarters, very existence of the [student resource officer] program,” Deputy Inspector General Joseph Lipari wrote in the review.

The review found that CPD has not implemented four of the five policy recommendations made by the office in the nine months since the initial report was issued. During that time a high-profile clash between school cops and a special needs student at a West Side high school led to a federal lawsuit against the city.

“If there was a sense of urgency this would have been done by now,” Inspector General Joe Ferguson said in an interview with the Sun-Times. “ ... The fact that there seems to be no meaningful engagement of the community in conversation around these very important issues and programs within the department, has itself become highly problematic.”

He said on the South and West sides, the “SRO program, along with gang database, is a constant area of concern.”

No agreement between CPD, CPS

Chicago police and Chicago Public Schools have operated “an entire additional school year” without an agreement in place that would govern how officers are placed and would operate in the schools, the review states. The last agreement reached between the two institutions expired in 2017.

Police have have hosted eight “community input meetings” to address the concerns raised about student resource officers. Some community groups were highly critical of the substance of the meetings and a perceived lack of transparency on behalf of CPS and CPD in the process.

Ferguson agreed that the one meeting that his office attended — the only one open to the public — was announced too late and was too controlled to result in meaningful community feedback.

Police officers assigned to schools in the city still lack specific training in working with students they interact with, the review stated. The department told the IG’s office that it is developing a new training curriculum with help from the National Association of School Resource Officers, but it has yet to be implemented.

The review also found that CPD continues to lack policies on the recruitment, selection and evaluation of officers assigned to schools and no one at CPD directly oversees the program.

The police department told the IG’s Office that the creation of the position has been constrained by ongoing collective bargaining agreements between the city and the union that serves rank-and-file officers.

Progress in one area

The review found that police have made progress in one area: maintaining a current roster of the 176 officers assigned to schools and identifying the 75 schools they are assigned to.

Before the IG was given the roster in January, the most current roster police could provide was from 2017, the IG’s Office said. The roster supplied by CPS was from 2014.

In a statement, police said the report “reflects the meaningful reforms underway at CPD today” which they are currently in the process of implementing with CPS to revamp the program.

“We fully expect to meet the policy, selection criteria, and training requirements set forth in the consent decree in advance of the 2019-20 school year,” the statement said.

CPS referred specific questions to CPD, which it has said it is committed to partnering with.

“Ensuring Chicago schools are safe and fully supportive of all students is a top priority for the district, and we are fully committed to partnering with the Chicago Police Department,” a spokesman said previously.

The report also urges the City Council’s public safety committee — which hasn’t held a hearing on the issue since the first report came out — to address the issue.

A cut on Dnigma Howard’s cheek she said she received when a Chicago police officer punched her during an incident Tuesday at Marshall High School when the officer tried to escort her off the school’s grounds. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

A cut on Dnigma Howard’s cheek she said she received when a Chicago police officer punched her during an incident at Marshall High School when the officer tried to escort her off the school’s grounds. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Not aligned with best practices

The Inspector General’s Office warned police last year that failure to act would leave “students, teachers, parents, and community stakeholders ... without the protections and assurances of a school safety program that is aligned with national best practices.”

Community groups say those best practices — or the complete removal of police from schools — would have prevented an incident in January when two police officers assigned to Marshall High School allegedly pushed student Dnigma Howard down a flight of stairs before shocking her repeatedly with a stun gun.

Dnigma’s family is currently suing the police department and Board of Education in federal court.

Dnigma was also charged with battering both officers. The charges were later dropped, but underscore a specific concern identified by the Inspector General’s Office months earlier.

“CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for [student resource officers] amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternatives,” Lipari warned in September.

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