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Greater transparency would make Mayor Lightfoot’s tough job a little easier

When Lightfoot was running for mayor, she promised time and again to bring greater transparency, oversight and accountability to City Hall.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

You don’t have to fly a drone over City Hall to see that Mayor Lori Lightfoot is missing chances to defuse public relations flaps simply by being more forthcoming.

This week, Chicagoans found out — thanks to a leaked email from last summer — that the Chicago Police Department has launched a pilot drone program. As Tom Schuba and Frank Main of the Sun-Times reported, the department has envisioned using drones to find missing persons, take crime scene photos and help on terrorist-related issues.

That news has unsettled a lot of Chicagoans, but it didn’t have to. Back in 2013, the Illinois Legislature hammered out thoughtful rules on the ways police around the state can use drones to do their jobs better without infringing on anyone’s rights. The legislation was a negotiated agreement between the police, privacy advocates and other stakeholders.

If City Hall had simply announced at any time since then that the Chicago Police were launching a pilot drone program, with strict adherence to the state law, we doubt that many folks would have blinked. No one would have thought we were plunging back into the days of the abusive police Red Squad.

Instead, it took a leaked email to tell the public what the cops should have told them. And the news added to earlier unsettling questions about how the police have used other new tools of detection, such as facial recognition technology and surveillance-camera technology.

Lightfoot could not have known the emails would be leaked, but she should have anticipated that the news about cops using drones was going to get out one way or another. It’s that kind of sensitive issue. She could have just told everybody.

Instead, the news came via those leaked emails, setting the stage for a lot of alarming Big Brother conspiracy theories.

Unfortunately, Lightfoot has a tendency to answer only those questions she wants to and to brush off others. She creates unforced errors.

She could have been more immediately transparent about the city Law Department’s efforts to block body-camera video of police who went to the wrong address and handcuffing Anjanette Young. And she could have been promptly upfront about why the police foot-chase policy hadn’t been updated when Adam Toledo was shot.

For that matter, the mayor could be more upfront about the problem of the hacked emails, though she is limited in what she can say because of an ongoing investigation.

The mayor’s job is a tough one. And our own political radar still says she’s a person of great integrity whose failures to be sufficiently forthright at times is more instinctual than ill-intended.

But when Lightfoot campaigned to be elected mayor, she promised time and again to bring greater transparency, oversight and accountability to the city’s business.

She needs to live up to that.

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