CPD makes significant headway on reform but still grapples with long-standing problems: report

While the Chicago Police Department is at some level of compliance with roughly three-fourths of a federal consent decree, a new report raises alarms about staffing, a delayed foot pursuit policy and efforts to build community trust.

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Chicago police Superintendent David Brown (C) poses for pictures with other officers at a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony on October 20, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The city of Chicago has started to place police officers on unpaid leave for refusing to comply with the city’s requirements that they report their COVID-19 vaccination status. Only about 65 percent of the city’s police have complied with the order. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775726853

Chicago police Supt. David Brown, center, with other officers at a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony on Oct. 20, 2021.

Scott Olson/Getty file

The Chicago Police Department made its most significant strides yet in complying with sweeping court-ordered reforms but continues to grapple with issues setting the department back such as staffing, community engagement and problems with data collection, according to a report released late Monday.

In a briefing with reporters in late March, days after the city was granted three extra years to comply with the federal consent decree, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said the independent monitoring team’s latest report marks “real and significant progress.” The police department has now reached some level of compliance with nearly 73% of the sections in the consent decree, up from 52% last October.

Despite Brown’s overall optimism, the report also points to serious issues with staffing and retention, the department’s delayed foot pursuit policy and its flawed efforts to engage and build trust with residents, among other things.

In an unusual move, the court-appointed monitor, Maggie Hickey, included a letter in the report that reiterates much of her team’s criticism and slams members of the department “who believe crime reduction is separate from, or even opposed to, reform efforts.”

“Constitutional and effective policing — and the Consent Decree — requires the CPD and its officers to reduce crime as community partners, which requires building, maintaining, and rigorously protecting community trust and confidence,” wrote Hickey, a former federal prosecutor.

The consent decree took effect in March 2019 after former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the city over the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Of the 523 sections in the consent decree that were assessed, the police department is now in some degree of compliance with 380, according to the report. That includes preliminary compliance with 281 sections and secondary compliance with 76. It was found in full compliance with just 23.

The department notched its single-largest jump in compliance during the most recent reporting period, which stretched from last June through December, the report shows.

Robert Boik, the CPD’s executive director of constitutional policing and reform, said the department moved the needle at the first two levels. He pointed in part to policy developments tied to field training and evaluation and the system for officer discipline.

“We’ve continued the journey of building what it is we’re trying to build,” Boik said. “And that’s what we refer to as the continuous cycle of improvement.”

But as compliance rose overall in the latest reporting period, there also was some backsliding. The department lost preliminary compliance with eight sections covering officer training, use-of-force policies and transparency, as well as secondary compliance with three sections related to community policing.

Yet Hickey notes in her letter that overhauling the department requires “more than a simple checklist,” adding that the CPD and other city agencies “must become learning organizations, capable of identifying new and existing challenges and implementing corresponding solutions.”

The massive cost of change

The CPD’s road to reform was recently extended in a March 25 agreement reached with the attorney general’s office that was approved by a federal judge. In addition to the eight years the city is now getting to comply with the reforms, the police department will have to maintain them for up to two more years.

At the time, Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times the initial five-year deadline was “unrealistic,” pointing to other police departments that have taken a decade or longer to get out from under a consent decree. She also acknowledged the city likely will have to spend at least $50 million toward her goal of creating a “completely transformed” police department.

The latest monitoring report shows the CPD still has a long way to go.

As the department continues to struggle with recruitment and attrition, the report raises “significant concerns about the lack of consistent staffing and retention levels … in areas crucial” to implementing the decree.

Boik said the department plans to respond in part by pushing for “tens of millions” of dollars over the coming years to add more sergeants. The money would help the department meet provisions requiring each sergeant to oversee the same 10 officers, Boik said.

The department also faces pressure to shore up multiple data issues, including some related to its foot chase policy.

The monitoring team recommended the CPD adopt a policy last March, weeks before foot pursuits came under heavy scrutiny when 21-year-old Anthony Alvarez and 13-year-old Adam Toledo were killed by police officers in separate shootings.

Although a temporary policy has since been implemented, the department is still waiting to finalize a permanent policy after blowing a deadline last September.

The report also slams the CPD’s “insufficient community engagement during its policy development procedures, as well as its lack of comprehensive and layered community engagement and policing strategies.” Such engagement often falls to the late stages of policy creation, according to the report, which notes that community members are sometimes “effectively prevented from meaningfully participating at all.”

“It is still unclear whether and how community comments and feedback are incorporated into policies under revision,” the report states.

‘Positive community interactions’ draw more scrutiny

Perhaps the most stinging rebuke targets the department’s system for conducting “positive community interactions,” or PCIs — random encounters between officers and citizens that are reported to dispatchers.

Brown on Jan. 4 set a lofty goal of recording 1.5 million such interactions this year, a threefold increase from 2021. The attorney general’s office wrote a letter to city lawyers the following month, urging the department to “suspend or at least pause” the effort, warning the goal amounted to a “quota system” that is “rife with significant downsides.”

The monitoring team’s report follows suit, urging the department to halt the initiative to address “outstanding issues.”

Given that PCIs are ill-defined, the report notes it’s unclear whether an interaction can be linked to “law-enforcement actions,” like a stop, search, citation or arrest. What’s more, it warns that data collection and management surrounding PCIs makes it difficult to identify whether “a reported interaction was positive or negative — or even occurred.”

“If our understanding of the new PCI initiative’s potential impact on CPD data is accurate,” the monitoring team wrote, “then it is hard to overstate how damaging the PCI initiative could be to the CPD’s existing supervision, accountability, and transparency mechanisms and ability to maintain and build public trust and confidence.”

A Sun-Times analysis of PCI data last month found multiple accuracy issues and revealed the department was indeed on pace to hit Brown’s goal. A more recent analysis shows that while PCIs dipped slightly after the letter from the attorney general’s office, the department remained on track to triple such interactions.

Brown defended the program during the briefing, saying PCIs are part of a larger community engagement plan.

“How do you measure it, and then how do you audit it to prove that it’s working? So all of that will be built into a single document,” he said, pointing to a more robust tracking system. “But we can’t wait to do it. This is so critical to our success.”

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