On first anniversary of reform, Chicago Police Department on its way to fundamental change

Reform is a marathon, not a sprint. And yet the Police Department has made considerable gains.

SHARE On first anniversary of reform, Chicago Police Department on its way to fundamental change
A Chicago Police Officer’s badge, tucked in a pocket.

“While progress has been made,” writes Interim Supt. Charlie Beck, “we are not yet where we want to be in many areas of the consent decree.”

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

It’s been just over a year since a federally monitored consent decree requiring a host of reforms throughout the Chicago Police Department took effect, and there’s no question we’re on a trajectory that will bring sustainable change.

I’ve worked over the past several months to ensure we have the framework, resources and personnel necessary to improve our progress toward compliance with the consent decree. This has included everything from mandating that all CPD consent-decree-related positions be filled immediately to restructuring CompStat meetings so that they include assessments on training compliance.

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But, as the decree’s Independent Monitoring Team has stated, our path to reform is a marathon, not a sprint. And yet, the department has made considerable gains over the past year.

Annual in-service training that was nonexistent for rank-and-file officers prior to 2017 has now been increased to 32 mandatory hours. We’ve tripled the number of clinicians providing mental health and wellness support, and we have launched a team of crisis intervention specialists to assist officers who have repeated or complex interactions with individuals in a mental health crisis.

We now have a clear, written agreement with Chicago Public Schools on the roles our officers will carry out in each of the schools we serve. We used the National Association of School Resource Officers last summer to train over 200 CPD school resource officers in national best practices.

A recent organizational overhaul has combined all the functions tied to reform efforts under the command of a newly created Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform.

While progress has been made and we remain steadfast in our commitment to implementing sustainable reform, we are not yet where we want to be in many areas of the consent decree.

Deadlines have been missed. Compliance has yet to be achieved in several important areas, from how we effectively engage community members most affected by CPD policies, to how quickly we produce requested information, manage data and review policies in a manner consistent with consent decree requirements.

The Independent Monitoring Team, which is overseeing our compliance with the consent decree, will release its second semi-annual report next month, and we’re expecting a similar picture to be painted in the report.

While not ideal, this should not be cause for alarm when viewed through a lens of historic precedence.

My experience in Los Angeles, along with the experiences of other law enforcement agencies that have operated under consent decrees, has shown that complete compliance will take a significant investment and dedication of time and resources.

It took LAPD more than 13 years before the consent decree was lifted. The New Orleans Police Department still is working toward compliance with a consent decree imposed in early 2013. The Seattle Police Department was on a path toward full compliance with a consent decree issued in 2012 before it was extended last year. There will be significant bumps and setbacks along the journey toward implementing sustainable reform.

As a police department and as a city, we must be prepared to respond to challenges that will determine how well, and how soon, we achieve compliance with the consent decree and ultimately, sustain reform for future generations of Chicagoans and CPD alike. The level of authentic reform that can be achieved only with the input and participation of our community cannot be sacrificed for expediency. These conversations are not always easy, but they are absolutely necessary.

The progress achieved thus far would not have been possible without the thousands of Chicagoans who have joined us along our path to reform. This includes residents who have taken the time to share feedback on police department policy; the community organizations that continue demanding excellence and accountability from the department; and our department members who have committed to making this work and becoming a department that lives up to our ideals.

I truly believe that everyone throughout Chicago wants — and deserves — the same thing: a well-trained and professional police department committed to serving and protecting all Chicagoans with dignity and respect. How we get there will continue serving as the topic of spirited debate in the years to come.

As we embark on the second year of the consent decree, we must remember that constitutional policing and effective crimefighting strategies are not mutually exclusive. Our officers continue to serve and protect their communities every day and night. We require them to be at their very best, often in the worst circumstances.

It’s because of this level of inherent risk and uncertainty that CPD cannot, and will not, take steps backward during this period of change.

Charlie Beck, chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Department from 2009 to 2018, has been interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department since Dec. 2, 2019.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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