After a cold war that featured six mayoral cancellations, Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham hopes to break the ice this weekend in his first face-to-face meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
The president of the union representing rank-and-file Chicago Police officers said he has “pulled his punches” with Lightfoot because he wants to work together with her to bolster the police force by another 1,000 officers and find the revenue to pay for it.
Lightfoot has scheduled and canceled six meetings with Graham. If the weekend meeting comes off as scheduled, Graham plans to use the opportunity to “tone things down,” dispel “myths” and “start a dialogue” with Lightfoot that will help identify “new revenues” to add sorely needed foot patrols and bolster the police force to 14,400 officers. That’s 1,000 more than the 13,400 officers on the street after Rahm Emanuel’s two-year hiring surge.
Lightfoot is already grappling with a budget shortfall she claims is “north of $700 million,” in part, because the salaries of those newly hired officers rise dramatically after 18 months.
Graham said he has identified “new revenues” to help cover police hiring costs, but he refused to reveal them until he shares them with the mayor.
The most undermining and demoralizing “myth” is the admitted “unsubstantiated rumor” that Lightfoot claims to have heard from a “credible” source and chose to repeat on cable TV: that the FOP had instructed its members to “lay back” and “do nothing” over Memorial Day weekend.
“On Memorial Day weekend, I was out backing up officers in the 3rd District, the 7th District and the 19th District. I was out there talking with officers at roll call. I also went on calls to back them up. Why would I say those things if I myself was out there?” Graham said.
Myth No. 2 is Lightfoot’s claim — reiterated to an FOP official on the floor of the City Council — that Graham is a “Dr. No” standing in the way of police reform.
“I have not said ‘no’ to everything. I wouldn’t have invited the monitor to come meet with us if I was always saying no,” Graham told the Sun-Times.
“My job is to represent the men and women of the Chicago Police Department and make sure their rights are protected. Some of the things being asked from us are ridiculous, and some of them they need to negotiate. I am not giving up my members’ rights so a social agenda can be achieved. That’s not going to happen.”
Graham acknowledged that “a lot of people” wanted him to “come out harder” against the mayor.
“I did pull my punches. This mayor is going to be here for the next four years. I want to have a dialogue. I want to try and solve the crime problem. I want to help her solve the financial issues in this city,” he said.
On July 1, the most contentious portion of the consent decree is scheduled to take effect requiring Chicago police officers to file a report every time they point a gun at someone.
Graham wants a series of exemptions that include officers involved in foot chases and SWAT teams who need to have their “guns in a ready position” during searches.
If the monitor doesn’t agree, he’s prepared to ask the federal judge overseeing the case to referee the dispute and push back the July 1 deadline.
Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability that demanded changes to the police contract. Its scathing report pointed to a police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and requires sworn affidavits.
Graham slammed the door on all of those changes.
“You need to be able to establish that people are not just trying to get police officers off the beat so crime can flourish,” he said. “If these allegations are true, put your name to it.”
In fact, he wants to triple the waiting period before statements are given after a shooting to 72 hours.
“It takes you a while — especially when you’ve been in such a traumatic incident. ... There are studies that show this. That’s why the federal government gives 72 hours. If it’s good enough for the federal government, why shouldn’t we have the same rights as federal agents?” he said.
Graham disclosed that City Hall is seeking to implement a “discipline matrix” that mandates certain penalties for certain allegations.
“The problem with that is, they have increased all the penalties without any explanation. If you’ve never done anything wrong in 25 years and you do one thing wrong, you could be suspended for five days. That’s unreasonable,” he said.