Chicago is making real progress on policing reform

In the Independent Monitoring Report 4, Chicago achieved a noteworthy milestone: At the two-year mark, it had achieved more than any other American city under a consent decree. Missing deadlines should not be conflated with noncompliance.

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Police Supt. David Brown listens as Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at the Chicago Police Department’s graduation and promotion ceremony at Navy Pier, Aug. 9.

Police Supt. David Brown and other top police officials listen to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s speech at the Chicago Police Department’s graduation and promotion ceremony at Navy Pier, Aug. 9.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

At every level of government — including within the Mayor’s Office and the Chicago Police Department — urgent conversations are taking place regarding police reform and oversight.

Reform advocates and members of the press are asking the right questions about progress on reform, but the resulting discourse is often littered with partial truths and broad, ambiguous statements.

Calls to action fall flat when they do not acknowledge the complexity of police reform, demonstrate a thorough understanding of the Chicago consent decree or exhibit an awareness of the steps taken by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to improve safety.

As the new deputy mayor for public safety, I feel compelled to address the state of police reform in our city and speak directly to residents who are burdened not only with violence, but the lasting impact of systemic racism within our criminal legal systems. To those individuals: Know that we share your urgency for reform and are making substantive and meaningful changes to keep Chicago safe and make everyone’s neighborhood safer.

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And to all Chicagoans: Let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what these changes look like. Truly sustainable reform occurs when we build bridges and make connections.

First, we must remember Chicago is experiencing historic reductions in violent crime on the South and West sides, as well as an unprecedented financial investment in those same communities, which for decades have been blighted by violence and lack of economic opportunity. The reduction in crime has largely been facilitated by the tireless efforts of our Chicago Police officers. I would like to emphasize that I appreciate them, and I recognize the challenges of policing in this post-pandemic era.

It is also crucial to understand the complexities of police reform. When misinformation is spread, we move from cooperation to conflict, hope to pessimism, progress to stagnation.

Here is the truth: To implement truly sustainable reform, the Chicago Police Department is focused on providing the best training possible, not just a quick fix. When subject matter experts and civilians conduct important training and uniformed officers get out in the field to serve and protect communities, we get closer to truly sustainable change.

Much of these reforms are guided by the federal consent decree, which contains the highest number of requirements of any large city that has undertaken such an effort since the late 1990s.

In the Independent Monitoring Report 4, Chicago achieved a noteworthy milestone: At the two-year mark, it had achieved more than any other American city under a consent decree.

To give some context: On average, cities that have entered a consent decree achieve full compliance within 10 years. While it is true the CPD has “fully complied with less than 5% of the decree’s requirements,” the department is nearly 75% compliant overall. Previously, in IMR-3, the CPD had more than tripled its overall compliance with the consent decree.

CPD is building community trust in other ways as well. For example, and as explained in IMR-4, use of force policies were revised multiple times because CPD wanted to incorporate the input from extensive dialogue with community members. Mandatory annual training hours were increased from 0 hours to 40 hours, and the CPD’s policy on interactions with transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming individuals was similarly revised based on extensive community dialogue.

Further accomplishments can be found in the report, but the point is clear: Missing consent decree deadlines should not be conflated with noncompliance. Deadlines are often arbitrary milestones that reflect the timeliness of reform, rather than the reform itself. Extending the timeline of our consent decree efforts ensures we are providing our officers with every resource they need to effectively make a meaningful difference in the lives of our residents.

Finally, I want to highlight that last summer, Chicago passed the most progressive and comprehensive civilian oversight legislative package in the country. This package created the citywide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), which has the power to advance systemic reform, as well as district councils that will be elected in each police district and will work to improve policing and public safety.

Right now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make meaningful and sustainable change to keep our communities safe. As a woman whose family has been in Chicago since the early 1900s, and as someone who has experienced their own personal traumas, I am sincerely invested in the hearts and souls of all Chicagoans.

As a lawyer by background, I am especially determined to take advantage of this critically important moment, not just with emotion, but with analytical diligence — guided by facts, being clear-eyed about the systemic issues facing our city and in partnership with the residents for whom I am so proud to work.

Elena Gottreich is the city’s deputy mayor for public safety and was previously deputy director of prosecutorial strategies for the Chicago Police Department.

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