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Chicago City Council should reject new police contract until it includes more reforms

A proposed new deal with the Fraternal Order of Police contains important improvements but doesn’t go far enough.

Chicago police investigate two shootings in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Sept. 5, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Even as Black and Brown Chicagoans have endured extraordinary devastation over the past 19 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve faced rising violence. The disproportionate suffering of their communities is an outcome of the systemic racism that’s defined both this city and country since their births.

Decades of disinvestment, knee-jerk over-policing, and a refusal to listen to the people closest to the problems have created and exacerbated generational trauma with the result being a Chicago that’s increasingly unsafe for everyone.

This week, on Tuesday, the City Council has a nearly unprecedented opportunity to take action to create real and deeply necessary change — or, more precisely, to refuse to take action that will almost certainly forestall such change.

After four years of negotiations, the city’s Fraternal Order of Police has approved its next contract with the city. Negotiated under the obligation of a federally mandated consent decree stemming from Chicago’s failure to act sufficiently to end patterns of excessive force, the agreement contains important improvements, but doesn’t yet go far enough.

As it stands today, the contract front-loads FOP demands for salary increases for rank-and-file officers, but it back-loads necessary reforms that remain subject to continued negotiation. And there’s simply no reason to assume the FOP will negotiate in good faith once its members have already gotten bigger paychecks.

We call on the aldermen to reject this agreement until after successful phase two negotiations.

Notably, before her election, Mayor Lori Lightfoot chaired the 2016 Chicago Police Accountability Task Force. That body developed a series of 14 much needed recommendations beneficial to community members and police officers alike. One proposal that made it into the contract that is now before the council holds officers accountable for false reports — but as adopted, the new rule is insufficient. It fails to trigger an automatic charge for officers who alter their testimony upon viewing contradictory video.

Rhetoric is not enough, and neither are promises made in press releases. Mayor Lightfoot now has a chance to push for the reforms she once championed. She and the City Council must stop looking to repackage old policies prioritizing a policing system that has cost Chicagoans billions of dollars, and instead address the root causes of the city’s violence. Though some of the progress achieved in this contract was mandated by the consent decree and the Illinois SAFE-T act, the city can — and must — push further for the reforms it knows are necessary.

For example, the contract currently doesn’t require officers to disclose secondary employment or other obligations that could conflict with their duties. An officer with a sidearm can work a 12-hour shift for the Chicago Police Department and then work a private 12-hour shift elsewhere without informing CPD, leading to the possibility of individuals charged with “public safety” being scheduled to work after having not slept in 24 to 36 hours.

The contract also continues to allow promotions for officers who repeatedly have been recommended for suspension, rather than penalize the repeated use of excessive force.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting is an opportunity to push back against those who insist that only by adding more armed officers to the streets of our most vulnerable citizens will the city be able to keep anyone safe.

If the council votes to approve the FOP contract as it is today, they are not choosing public safety for all. Instead, they are choosing to perpetuate the broken systems that have shaped Chicago and its police force for generations.

We represent a coalition of faith leaders and community organizers from across the city, and we have held the hands of mourners, heard the heartbreak of survivors and watched generations of children grow up with the fear and uncertainty created by poor policing practices.

It’s crucial that a contract with the FOP be approved this fall, but Tuesday is not the day. The recommendations of the 2016 task force must be vigorously pursued. We urge the aldermen to inform themselves not only of the realities of Chicagoans’ lives but also of the possibilities to build real, lasting change. We likewise urge all FOP members who recognize that policing in Chicago has too often been the problem rather than the solution to make their views known to their colleagues, even as we recognize that taking a stand will almost certainly expose them to risk.

The transformations we are calling for not only will improve the lives of those communities now living through some of Chicago’s most painful chapters, but the lives of all residents, no matter their address and, not least, police officers themselves. We call on the City Council to choose that future and make their approval of the new FOP contract contingent on successful incorporation of the 2016 task force’s recommendations.

The Rev. Ciera Bates Chamberlain is executive director of LIVE FREE Chicago and LIVE FREE Illinois. The Rev. Dr. Beth Brown is pastor of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. Joel Hamernick is president of Sunshine Gospel Ministries. Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is the rabbi at the Chicago Sinai Congregation.

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