Why the Chicago Police Department must — and will — carry out consent decree reforms

I know first-hand how building real, meaningful trust between officers and the residents they serve can save lives.

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“We not only have to stay the course, but rather, double-down on our efforts,” writes Chicago Police Deputy Superintendent Barbara West.

Photo provided by City of Chicago

Several years back when I led the 15th District on Chicago’s West Side, I received a call from a community member warning me that something bad was going to take place in one of the neighborhoods within our district.

This resident provided the information I needed to dispatch the right cars to the right location, at the right time, leading to a significant arrest and seizure of several illegal guns and perhaps preventing another senseless tragedy that our South and West Sides experience far too often.

At the time, my officers asked how in the world I knew when and where to send cars that would result in a mass gun arrest.

My response? “A little birdie told me.”

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The reality is that this shooting — and many others — were prevented thanks to the trust, partnership and cooperation our local district had earned with the community over countless hours of hard work and dedication.

I know first-hand how building real, meaningful trust between officers and the residents they serve can save lives. It’s that reason — above all — why I am committed to ensuring our Chicago Police Department implements the reforms set forth in the consent decree. This 229-page enforceable document is our road map to a stronger police department and safer city for all our residents.

Yesterday, the Independent monitor overseeing CPD’s compliance with the consent decree released their second semiannual report. In it, the monitor noted areas of marked improvement since the first report back in November 2019 as well as deadlines and areas of compliance that have been missed. We aren’t making excuses for these missed deadlines. We have taken immediate steps to address them and ensure that the department has the framework, resources and personnel necessary to improve compliance going forward.

This report is a testament to the fact that the level of transformational change and reform that we are working toward cannot be achievedovernight, let alone in one year.

You won’t find anyone more frustrated with the slow pace of reform than I am. I’ve been with CPD for over 25 years, and as the deputy superintendent, it’s my responsibility to bring the department on the other side of the consent decree and show the rest of the country how true police reform is done.

As Supt. David Brown has stated on numerous occasions, the consent decree is a baseline, not the ceiling, when it comes to reform.

We not only have to stay the course, but rather, double-down on our efforts.

Lasting reform requires a strong will and patience. The consent decree went into effect just a mere 16 months ago. We have come a long way since then, just as we have come a long way from where we were five, 10 and even 25 years ago when I was a young officer on the West Side.

The calls for reform are being heard and clear. We want — and need — reform as well. But we can’t do this alone. We need our faith leaders, police officers, community-based organizations and residents to continue sharing their input on policy, to attend our community conversations and to volunteer for working groups.

At the direction of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Supt. Brown, we’ve prioritized a series of reforms to be completed by the end of summer, including crisis intervention and procedural justice training, a new recruit program on police-community relations and implementing a real officer wellness program.

Until the next report is released, every police encounter will help answer the following questions:

Did we invest in community relationships needed to continue restoring and building trust?

Are we providing equal access to police services to the marginalized and impacted communities throughout Chicago?

Have we implemented the right policies and procedures to ensure they’re reflective of the input and concerns from the communities we serve, as well as our own rank-and-file?

Have we supported our officers on the street with the training, equipment, supervision and wellness support they need to come to work each day and perform their duties in a safe and lawful manner?

And most importantly: when policies are violated and trust is broken, have we implemented the fair and transparent measures of accountability?

Every single police encounter will determine Chicago’s commitment to meaningful and sustainable reform.

Deputy Superintendent Barbara West oversees the Chicago Police Department Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, and is the highest-ranking Black woman in CPD history.

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