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Inspector general turns up the heat on Chicago Police Department

In what could be his final budget hearing appearance, Joe Ferguson pressured CPD to realign police beats for the first time in 50 years, speed compliance with a federal consent decree and support efforts to end the “code of silence.”

A Chicago police squad car was struck December, 11, 2021 in Park Manor.
Inspector General Joe Ferguson testified Monday at a City Council budget hearing, touching on several topics relating to the Chicago Police Department.
Sun-Times file photo

Inspector General Joe Ferguson turned up the heat on the Chicago Police Department Monday to realign police beats, speed compliance with a federal consent decree and support the anonymous reporting system he created to end CPD’s code of silence.

With his own future in doubt and several elements of the multi-pronged monitoring system in similar limbo, Ferguson likened lagging compliance with the consent decree to trying to fix an airplane in mid-flight.

Ferguson noted Chief Risk Officer Tamika Puckett, “a true visionary,” has “moved on” to become manager of corporate security at Zoom video. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Susan Lee and Deputy CPD Supt. Barbara West, head of constitutional policing for CPD, are also gone.

Even more important is the civilian police review board critical to restoring public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. It’s caught in a political stalemate between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and community groups over how much power to grant that board.

“We’re three years gone and that’s still not there. And that has both transactional effect and broader relational effect,” Ferguson said.

“My fear is we’re just gonna pass a tipping point where all that hard work that we are doing is not gonna be seen with the requisite legitimacy because we don’t have the community piece in place.”

Ferguson and then-Police Board President Lori Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability whose scathing indictment of CPD after the court-ordered release of the McDonald shooting video prompted a similarly critical report from the U.S. Justice Department.

On the hot seat at City Council budget hearings being held online, Ferguson warned the consent decree would remain in place for “a long time.”

He told aldermen he was “concerned about where we are” after two straight report cards showing CPD missing 70% of its deadlines.

“We don’t even have the infrastructure in place right now as we’re doing the work. It’s like trying to fix the airplane while it’s in the air,” he said.

“The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Take that and apply it to an octopus and that’s where we are right now.”

Inspector General Joe Ferguson
Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s term runs through late 2021 and he said discussing whether he wants to stay in the job, or if Mayor Lori Lightfoot will appoint someone to take his place, is a low priority right now.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) characterized Ferguson’s assessment of the consent decree process as “scary.”

Lightfoot’s “pandemic” budget is balanced, in part, by eliminating 614 police vacancies. That means shrinking CPD by attrition.

On Monday, Ferguson put in a strong pitch for making the most of the department’s diminishing manpower by realigning police beats for the first time in nearly 50 years.

“We have high-rises, public housing units, where there were beats specific to those high-rise units. Those high-rises are not there anymore, yet the beats still exist. There’s beat integrity issues as well,” he said.

Under fire for keeping the McDonald shooting video under wraps until after the 2015 election, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously acknowledged the existence of a code of silence in the Chicago Police Department.

To end it, the deputy inspector general for public safety created what Ferguson calls a “completely anonymous, double-blind safe space portal” allowing officers to report wrongdoing by fellow officers without fear of retaliation.

But Ferguson argued Monday that the $20,000 portal has “not been supported by the department” and the final wording of the consent decree “somewhat knee-caps” anonymous complaints.

As a result, the portal has received only a “few scores” of anonymous complaints since 2017.

“If you send [a tip] to the IG’s double-blind, safe anonymous complaint portal, it’s possible the IG’s investigation might reveal that you failed to report that up the chain because you’re supposed to report it to your supervisor as well. That defeats the very purpose of all of this,” Ferguson said.

“The consent decree itself needs to be brought into alignment with what actually the original intention was.”

Under questioning by South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Ferguson said he’s about to release a report on CPD’s Rule 14, otherwise known as “You lie and you die.”

“It is historically not been pursued in the way that it should be pursued. That’s what our report will be talking about,” Ferguson said.

Yet another upcoming report will “demonstrate that the city has not availed itself of … the affidavit override provision” in the police contract “in order to conduct investigations where the complainant is reluctant to actually sign an affidavit,” the inspector general said.

“Hopefully, that results in making more aggressive and better use of this provision of the contract,” Ferguson said.

Lightfoot has hinted strongly she won’t reappoint Ferguson when his third four-year term expires next year.

The mayor told the Sun-Times last month Ferguson has “been in office for a really long time” and she doesn’t believe people should “stay in office indefinitely.” She doesn’t think it’s “good for them,” nor is it “good for the organization that they lead.”

On Monday, Ferguson was asked if he wants to stay.

“I started doing this job in November of 2009. I’m in my third, four-year term. Which means we’re not getting to this question until … the second part of next year,” he said.

“This city is in a world of hurt. A lot of things that need to be tended to in the meantime. The issue of my tenure and whether I continue is such a low priority right now. There is so much for us to do, I don’t even have it on my time horizon yet. When we get to the spring and the summer, I’m happy to talk to everybody about it.”