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With the new police contract, Chicago has an opportunity to rebuild trust

The new Fraternal Order of Police contract should mirror an agreement the city struck last summer with sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

The headquarters of the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge #7 in the West Loop.
Sun-Times Media

It is no secret that Chicago police have lost the trust and confidence of many people living in high-crime neighborhoods. It’s one reason just one in two murders and about one in 20 non-fatal shootings leads to an arrest. People won’t cooperate with police if they don’t trust them.

In the weeks ahead, however, Chicago could take a step forward in rebuilding trust if the new police contract with the union representing most rank-and-file police officers mirrors the contract agreed to last summer by sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

Under the “supervisor’s” contract, citizens can file anonymous complaints and trigger investigations without disclosing their identity until the investigation is well underway. The existing Fraternal Order of Police contract, however, prohibits anonymous complaints.

The requirement that citizens sign affidavits on the front-end identifying themselves has been a major barrier to accountability because people are afraid of intimidation or retribution by police. This issue was cited in the 2017 report by the Department of Justice that led to the federal consent decree now driving reforms in the Chicago Police Department.

Yet another provision of the supervisor’s contract eliminates the practice of destroying police disciplinary records after five years. This same measure was negotiated by the FOP years ago and remains in place today, denying the public an officer’s complete disciplinary history.

Finally, the supervisor’s contract explicitly takes on the “code of silence” by affirmatively recognizing officers who report police misconduct. The so-called “Serpico” provision was named for the New York City police officer who exposed corruption in the New York City Police Department back in the 1970’s.

All of these provisions in the supervisor’s contract are a floor, not a ceiling, for the FOP contract. We should go much further to bring meaningful accountability and transparency to policing, professionalize our police department and rebuild public trust.

The Chicago Police Department appears to understand this. CPD recently unveiled a new dashboard showing trust levels by area. Not surprisingly, trust levels are considerably lower on the South and West Sides, where our organization, Chicago CRED, works to reduce gun violence.

Every one of our participants can share personal stories of being roughed up by police even before they were teens. Ask them to free associate images with the word “fear” and they often mention police officers. They’re terrified of police and will do anything to avoid them.

Most of our men have lost family members and friends to prison and gun violence. They themselves have spent years in the criminal justice system. Many have been shot.

We have only begun to address their collective trauma and there are thousands more we have yet to reach. There is a lot of painful history to confront, including confessions coerced through torture, convictions obtained with false evidence, and outright corruption in elite units, as well as the everyday indignities suffered by people of color at the hands of police.

Right now, gun violence in Chicago is approaching record highs. We’re up 20% to 30% over last year, when the city had roughly 780 homicides and more than 4,000 shootings.

With the summer months coming, we and our partners across the city are redoubling efforts to reach young men at risk. Thanks to the federal government, there is more funding available for support programs that can begin to address the trauma of gun violence afflicting tens of thousands of Chicagoans let alone the underlying conditions that breed violence — including joblessness, housing affordability and racism.

We’re heartened to see CPD recommitting to community policing in some higher-crime neighborhoods. We also take note of some Black police officers who are openly critical of the police union. We salute their courage and willingness to challenge police culture.

But changing a culture does not happen overnight and, for all our forward progress, there will always be setbacks. Two recent fatal police shootings following late-night foot chases have prompted calls for a much deeper reckoning on policing. It is long past time to “reimagine public safety” and ask whether many “crime” problems would be better solved by outreach and social service workers, instead of armed police.

Right now, no one is winning. The community is isolated and resigned to living with injustice. Police are viewed with suspicion. They increasingly face gunfire on the job and have pulled back from engaging with people. Officer wellness is suffering. Fewer people are pursuing careers in law enforcement.

With the new police contract, the men and women of the Chicago Police Department have a real opportunity to bring us all to a better place where trust and cooperation among people and police is the norm. It not only will make Chicago safer for people. It also will make Chicago safer for police.

Arne Duncan is the founder of Chicago CRED, a violence prevention organization.

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