Chicago police are months behind schedule in selecting the person who will help lead the beleaguered department as it attempts to relate better with the more than 600,000 residents of the city who have a disability — a key part of the federal consent decree that seeks to reform the department.
Police acknowledged in interviews that it will likely be months before they get back on track on that part of the decree — even as high-profile confrontations involving police and people with both mental and physical disabilities continue to draw headlines, including one that lead to the 6-month suspension last month of an officer who shot an unarmed, autistic man.
However, officials said the extra time is evidence that they are taking seriously the need for a compliance officer who will help oversee how officers interact with the 23% of Chicagoans who report having a disability.
“We could meet all the deadlines in name only and not make any changes,” according to Christina Anderson, the department’s civilian head of the Office of Reform Management, which is tasked with implementing the federally-ordered reforms. “I’d rather have an expert come and join us than to check a box and put a new name tag on someone.”
CPD was supposed to have appointed a person to fill the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance officer position by the end of August, but didn’t post the $70,000-per-year position until Dec. 13. Applications are being accepted through Jan. 10.
Police also blew a related deadline Wednesday, when the department was supposed to have crafted a new policy to govern officers’ interactions with people with disabilities — a difficult thing to do without a person having been selected to lead that process.
Anderson said that part of the delay stems from the department’s decision to look outside the rank-and-file and hire a civilian for the position, a “significantly” longer hiring process that requires approval as part of the city’s budget, Anderson said.
“When we looked around ... we decided that putting a police officer in that position wasn’t a good idea, so we decided to go the civilian hire route,” Anderson said.
That’s not to say the department is writing off officers for the position entirely.
Anderson said the ideal candidate would have a strong background working with people with disabilities and knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and who has previously worked in the criminal justice system, including retired officers, as was the case when a similar position was created in San Francisco, Anderson said.
By hiring a civilian, Anderson said she believes the department will also better be able to ensure the new hire’s duties are focused solely on the position. That ensures, for example, the person isn’t shifted to patrols on holiday weekends or other high-need times when officers of all ranks and positions are put on street duty.
The department also wanted to work with a community partner to write the job description, and reached out to Equip for Equality, a nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities and was one of the community groups that sued the police department, leading to the consent decree in the first place.
Working with Equip attorney Amanda Antholt has been “a blessing,” Anderson said, noting that it was the first time CPD has ever worked closely with a community organization to craft a job description.
“CPD has never had an ADA coordinator,” Antholt said. “Hopefully it will be a really unique position.”
Antholt said the reforms are needed because of the disproportionate number of use-of-force incidents between police and people with disabilities.
“CPD seemed to be very much on board with the issues we were raising and were thinking about the same things,” Antholt said.
The new compliance officer — who as a civilian wont have police powers — will wear many hats, functioning in the department as a project manager, Anderson said. These include crafting CPD’s new policies and reevaluating them based on data from the department’s research division and community feedback. The officer will also be expected to craft and lead training sessions for sworn officers, be available to facilitate police with issues that arise and work as a direct line to the department for disabled people.