Without a court order mandating police reform, it will be up to local advocates to keep the political heat on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to live up to his promises.
On Wednesday police reformers got an ally in that effort: a $137,052-a-year deputy inspector general for public safety.
The City Council approved Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s selection of veteran police reformer and researcher Laura Kunard to fill the job.
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She is a senior research scientist for a nonprofit research organization that works on policing initiatives for the U.S. Justice Department. She is also a member of the court-appointed independent monitoring team overseeing a consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the police department in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
That’s something that Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled again this week is unlikely to happen in Chicago.
Emanuel has insisted that there’s no turning back on the road to police reform no matter where the federal government stands.
But, if he slows down at all or takes a detour, Kunard will be there to blow the whistle.
And so will Ferguson. He’s seeking another four-year term — coinciding with Kunard’s appointment — because the federal government’s retreat from police reform means local oversight is critical.
“The Justice Department is not gonna be part of it. … The absence of the Justice Department means that the city really needs to own this fully. And one of the key mechanisms that’s evolved in this whole field over the last 25 yrs is an inspector general function,” Ferguson said last week.
“I’m very anxious to get our shop up and running because I do think it would be a force amplifier and a driver.”
Emanuel, who has long since patched up his once rocky relationship with Ferguson, said he plans to meet with the inspector general in the coming day to talk about appointing him to another four-year term.
During last week’s confirmation hearing, Kunard got off on the wrong foot with powerful Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).
It happened after Kunard started off by declaring that the current system of police accountability was “largely ineffective” and that it has “lost legitimacy” with
Chicagoans because “so few officers historically have been held accountable for substandard performances or misconduct.”
“It’s very disturbing to me. … You can always find fault with it — ‘Nothing that we have done in the past has been any good. I’m here to straighten it out,'” Austin said.
“I really get tired of people saying that because I’ve been here 22 years and things have been operating. Maybe not at its best, but it has been operating. It does a disservice to us as a city for you all to come in here and say that.”
Under questioning by indicted Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, Kunard said she hopes to use officer ride-alongs and community meetings to “dig into” areas like training, supervision and early intervention that help officers do a “very difficult and dangerous job.”
“We can’t expect officers to perform their duties well without supporting them,” she said. “The main thrust of this position really is to drive change. . . . Essentially, this is an oversight function. Much of what we’ll be doing is assessing . . . fidelity to the model. How are policies implemented? What do they look like on the street? How is data being collected by these bodies? And how might we look at that data in some new way?”
Ferguson did not mince his words when asked to assess the status of police reform in Chicago one year to the day after the release of the Task Force on Police Accountability report that sets the stage for DOJ report. Ferguson served as co-chairman.
“Nor as far as we’d like to be. Not as far as we should be. …. There was probably a little bit of passivity waiting for the Justice Department to say what needed to be done. Now it’s on us and we’ve got to giddy up. It’s a warm day out there and we all know what happens in Chicago when it’s warm out. So we’ve all got to get moving,” he said.
Ferguson argued that the Chicago Police Department is “only barely in the game” in some areas of reform and “not in the game at all” in others. He specifically mentioned the an early intervention and counseling system that is “barely being used” and supervision and training, both of which the DOJ’s scathing indictment called sorely inadequate.
“There’s some significant upgrades in curriculum but the capacity to actually teach on that curriculum effectively really goes to resources and facilities and everybody knows they’re not what they should be,” he said.
“The curriculum … has to be converted into something that’s the equivalent of continuing professional education. We’re not quite there with that. … We’re literally expanding the ranks of field training officers right now and we haven’t implemented it fully in the field. Each one of these things is complex and we’re only in the starting gate with those we actually have stepped into.”
Ferguson referred to Chicago’s moribund community policing as the “poster child” for a Police Department that’s the “right idea” without adequate resources to pull it off.
“This is a brand that has existed within the Chicago Police Department for 25 years and never implemented as it was devised. One of the challenges here is we’re dealing with tarnished brands. And the public is gonna have a hard time trusting a tarnished brand,” he said.
“The only way we’re going to come to trust and legitimacy is to make sure that these programs are being implemented effectively. If the issue is fiscal resources for the department or prioritization of resources within the department to make sure they operate right, that’s part of what we’ll be looking at.”