Lightfoot says 5 years for sweeping police reforms was ‘unrealistic’ as city gets another 3 years

The mayor estimates completing those massive reforms will cost $50 million to $100 million.

SHARE Lightfoot says 5 years for sweeping police reforms was ‘unrealistic’ as city gets another 3 years
Chicago police officers at a 2017 graduation ceremony at Navy Pier.

Chicago police officers at a graduation ceremony at Navy Pier in 2017.

Scott Olson / Getty

Chicago has been granted an extra three years to comply with sweeping court-ordered police reforms, extending the total to eight years. Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the extension Friday, saying the previous timeframe was “unrealistic” for massive changes she expects will have a price tag of at least $50 million.

The city and the Illinois attorney general’s office agreed to the extension, which was approved Friday by U.S. District Judge Robert Dow. In addition to the eight years the city is now getting to comply with the reforms, the Chicago Police Department will have to maintain them for two more years. That means the city could be under the 2019 court order for a decade.

Dow said he’s met with Lightfoot and Attorney General Kwame Raoul and feels they’re “on the same page” on reforming the police department. He called the eight-year timeframe an “excellent target,” saying he always thought five years wasn’t doable.

The consent decree stems from a 2017 lawsuit against the city by the attorney general’s office in response to the killing of Laquan McDonald, who was shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Van Dyke was fired and sentenced to prison.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

“Five years was just never realistic,” Lightfoot said Friday in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “You know, most of these, it’s 10 or 12. And frankly, there’s some cities that had to do it twice, like Cleveland, New Orleans.”

“I want to make sure that after all this time, money and expense, and really, you know, capital, that at the end of this process, we have completely transformed our police department for the good,” she said.

Lightfoot said other departments have spent $50 million to $100 million complying with similar consent decrees and she expects Chicago to be in that range. One tradeoff, she hopes, will be fewer civil rights lawsuits and fewer astronomical legal payouts.

“I think about the amount of money that we spend, historically, on settlements, judgments, attorneys’ fees — way over a billion dollars,” she said. “We’re giving money out and getting very little in return.”

There are nearly 800 reforms the Chicago Police Department is being required to fulfill under the consent decree. Los Angeles took 12 years to meet the requirements of a 2001 consent decree. Detroit took 13 years. The average for cities to comply with such court orders is about 10 years, according to Chicago officials.

In Friday’s court filing, Chicago also agreed to add search warrants to the consent decree for the first time. The department last year launched reforms of its search warrant policy after the botched raid of Anjanette Young’s apartment in 2019. Now Maggie Hickey, the federally appointed independent monitor of the decree, will ensure the policy is carried out.

“I don’t expect to see massive changes” in the search warrant policy, Lightfoot said.

Michelle García, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said: “The three-year extension approved by the court today simply recognizes reality. The city has failed to meet more than half the deadlines required under the decree during its first years of enforcement.”

Garcia said search warrants needed to be added to the decree. “Given the harm and trauma these raids cause, judicial oversight is necessary to reform CPD’s illegal practices and make systemic change,” she said.

Chicago police Supt. David Brown.

Chicago police Supt. David Brown.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Police Supt. David Brown, in a briefing with reporters Wednesday, said he’s pleased with the department’s progress in coming into compliance with key reforms, especially on the use of force. Even though Hickey found the department was complying with more than half of the reforms at some level, others will take years to complete, he said.

The department, for instance, sorely needs to improve its computer system, Brown said.

About $4 million has been set aside to start those improvements, but the cost will be much higher, probably in the “tens of millions,” Lightfoot said. The upgrade is part of a larger effort to improve all computer systems in city government, she said.

“We have not invested in our IT infrastructure in the city in any meaningful way, literally in decades. We’re propping up legacy systems that the manufacturers don’t even support anymore,” the mayor said. “There’s way too much money spent over time on one-off customized systems that frankly aren’t getting the job done.”

Brown said another multiyear project is to create a 1-to-10 ratio of sergeants to patrol officers, which is called for in the consent decree. The 6th District on the South Side is piloting such a ratio, but it could take several years for the department to duplicate that in all the city’s 22 districts. Brown said he eventually would like to have a “unity of command” in which the same sergeant almost always supervises the same 10 officers.

Deputy Chief Antoinette Ursitti, who runs the training academy, said the department has radically boosted its training requirements since the consent decree took effect. Officers must now undergo 40 hours of training every year and front-line supervisors in districts are getting additional training, she said.

Still, police officials don’t expect to get completely positive grades when Hickey releases her next compliance report as early as next week.

In February, Hickey, a former federal prosecutor, gave an update saying the police department was in full or partial compliance with 266 paragraphs of the 507 — 52% — that her team had assessed. Hickey’s next official report will find the department’s compliance is even higher, according to the mayor.

But Robert Boik, executive director of the police department’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, said, “The monitor is going to criticize us a bit on community engagement.”

Maggie Hickey.

Maggie Hickey.


Boik didn’t specify what that criticism will be, but the attorney general’s office, in a letter to the police department last month, expressed concerns about its “positive community interaction” program, in which cops are supposed to record upbeat moments in engaging with the public.

That letter said Brown’s goal of 1.5 million such interactions this year amounted to a “quota system” that was “rife with significant downsides.”

Lightfoot bristled at that criticism, saying, “For the life of me, I really don’t understand this concern about positive community interaction.” Still, she acknowledged “we’ve got to make sure that the metrics and accountability around it are tight because, you know, you don’t want people [to be] able to game the system.”

Lightfoot said she expects Hickey to criticize the city for not having a formal written policy for community engagement, “but obviously PCI [Brown’s positive community interaction initiative] is part of it.”

She believes Brown is building trust between the cops and the community, which, she says, helped police solve more murders last year than in nearly 20 years. Still, killings and carjackings soared in 2021.

One example of the police department improving community relations, Lightfoot said, is a youth baseball league that police started on the West Side a few years ago. It’s now being “amplified to the next level,” she said.

“I went, it must have been two years ago. And I gotta tell you, it’s a memory that I’m going to keep with me for the rest of my life. And here’s why. You see these little kids, you know, in their uniforms, organized by their teams, the different colors, and they do a little parade down the street, to the ball fields, and the parents or their guardians, everybody’s happy. It is such a joyous occasion. And these teams are organized by police officers. They’re coached by police officers. And you know, you don’t know that when you’re out there in the field.”

“It’s a glorious, glorious thing.”

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