Staffing woes hamper CPD reform efforts, new report warns

The Chicago Police Department continues to make progress in a court-ordered revamp, but longstanding problems with manpower continue to hold it back.

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

The Chicago Police Department entered into a federal consent decree in 2019, following the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. In March, the city received another three years to implement required changes.

Scott Olson/Getty

The Chicago Police Department’s deep staffing and personnel issues continue to hinder its court-ordered reform efforts, according to a progress report released Thursday.

By the end of the most recent reporting period, covering the first half of the year, the police department had earned some form of compliance with 78% of the reviewable sections in the sweeping federal consent decree, which the city entered into after the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.

In a statement, Police Supt. David Brown touted the department’s increased compliance from the last reporting period and highlighted a newly implemented foot-pursuit policy, training efforts that are becoming more important in the reform process and reviews of investigatory stops and use-of-force incidents.

“As we continue in our journey to continuously improve CPD through reform, we remain committed to creating a police department that every single person in Chicago is confident in,” Brown said. “We cannot be an effective police department without having the trust of our residents behind us.”

But the team overseeing compliance, led by former federal prosecutor Maggie Hickey, wrote in a letter that “insufficient staffing” stands in the way of making the continued progress needed to get out from under the order.

The department’s staffing woes are well documented and have contributed to crises surrounding officer morale and mental health. The issue was also notably at the center of Brown’s controversial decision to ax the former reform chief, Robert Boik, who was dismissed in August after criticizing Brown’s decision to move nearly 50 officers from Boik’s office to the Bureau of Patrol.

The new report decried the “consistent turnover” among employees managing reforms, noting that nearly half the civilians working in that capacity had left their positions during the first six months of the year. Those concerns were “exacerbated” by Boik’s ouster, according to the report.

“While the superintendent has the discretion and responsibility for those decisions, we must acknowledge that Mr. Boik’s termination sent a demoralizing message to police officers, supervisors, and other CPD personnel,” according to the report.

The latest progress reflects Boik’s work. His replacement, Tina Skahill, was not made available for an interview.

The monitoring team said the department has also struggled to meet requirements to ensure that sergeants are supervising only 10 officers and overseeing the same cops every day — requirements aimed at improving performance evaluations and bolstering accountability and relationships.

They insisted the CPD needs to “recruit and hire the right people,” provide “high-quality training” and use data to measure success, among other steps aimed at addressing the staffing problems.

Meanwhile, members of the community continue to raise alarms “that reforms are lagging and that progress is urgently needed,” Hickey’s team wrote. During a court hearing late last month, the department faced blistering criticism over its efforts that were underscored by personal accounts of officers allegedly using unwarranted force and conducting wrongful raids.

In March, the city was granted an extra three years to implement the required changes after initially being given a five-year deadline when the consent decree began in 2019. The consent decree has three forms of compliance covering policy, training and real-world implementation, with the bulk of this reporting period’s compliance still falling under that first level.

“Chicago is no longer at the starting line for reform,” Hickey’s team wrote in the letter, “and we will continue to monitor and report on the city’s and the CPD’s efforts to reach the finish line.”

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