WASHINGTON – The Justice Department will later this week oppose a pending consent decree the city of Chicago agreed to in the wake of police misconduct allegations tied to the Laquan McDonald case, the Sun-Times has learned.
This comes a day after President Donald Trump told a gathering of police chiefs in Orlando that an agreement between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on stop and frisk policies was “terrible.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement, “Chicago’s agreement with the ACLU in late 2015 dramatically undercut proactive policing in the city and kicked off perhaps the greatest surge in murder ever suffered by a major American city, with homicides increasing more than 57 percent the very next year.
“Now the city’s leaders are seeking to enter into another agreement. It is imperative that the city not repeat the mistakes of the past — the safety of Chicago depends on it. Accordingly, at the end of this week, the Justice Department will file a statement of interest opposing the proposed consent decree. It is critical that Chicago get this right.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said in a joint statement, “There they go again. The Trump Administration never ceases to amaze, and this is just further proof that they are out of step with the people of Chicago and out of touch with reality. Given the Trump Administration’s stance we are proud to partner with Attorney General [Lisa] Madigan, someone who recognizes that our public safety reforms have public safety benefits, on a consent decree that reflects the input and ideas of residents and officers alike.
“And if anyone in the Trump Administration was paying attention they would know that as we have made major reforms over the past two years, we have also driven a 30 percent reduction in gun violence.”
There is a hearing on the pending decree in federal court in Chicago at the end of the month that helps explain the Justice Department timing.
By coincidence, that hearing comes after a Cook County jury on Friday found Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the 2014 killing shooting death of McDonald.
The ACLU agreement was made in 2015, and the next year murders in Chicago spiked. In 2016, there were 750 people murdered in Chicago compared with 480 in the previous year, a 57 percent increase and the most since 1997 when 761 people were slain.
But there is more to the story than what is reflected in the Sessions statement. Murders so far this year in Chicago are down about 19 percent compared with the same period of 2017 and 24 percent compared with the same period of 2016.
The announcement opposing the consent decree amounts to a remarkable turnaround of the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama and Trump — and underscores the consequences of elections.
Less than two years ago, Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch stood in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the Loop and said the Justice Department would join with City Hall to seek a federal court order governing reform at the Chicago Police Department.
But that was in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Sessions took office a short time later and has been publicly skeptical of a consent decree ever since.
Now, not only has he confirmed his opposition to the consent decree, Sessions has begun an active campaign to stop it.
That puts the Justice Department more in line with Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, which has been sharply critical of a draft of the consent decree.
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow recently shot down the FOP’s bid to intervene in the case, and the FOP is appealing. It’s not clear if the Justice Department would have more success if it tried to intervene.
City Hall and Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office revealed a 225-page draft of the consent decree last summer.
It is wide-ranging and would address virtually every aspect of policing in Chicago. One sticking point remained, but both sides agreed last month that officers would report every time they point a gun at someone.
Now Dow has set a two-day public fairness hearing for Oct. 24 and 25 in the ceremonial courtroom on the 25th floor of the federal courthouse. The hearing is meant to help the judge determine whether he should approve the consent decree. The judge has said he would accept written comments until the end of this week. He will also take oral comments at the hearing.
A Madigan spokeswoman, Maura Possley, said in response to the Justice Department announcement, “As the Justice Department found after an extensive investigation, Chicago residents and police officers have endured decades of serious problems that have endangered too many lives.
“The consent decree is a comprehensive roadmap to reform that we negotiated with the city and the Chicago Police Department for a year to reduce crime and build trust between Chicago residents and the police. It’s not surprising that this Justice Department is opposing real reform.”
Trump has been singling out crime in Chicago since his 2016 presidential campaign. On Monday in Orlando the president said, “I have directed the Attorney General’s office to immediately go to the great city of Chicago to help straighten out the terrible shooting wave. We want to straighten it out. We want to straighten it out fast. There’s no reason for what’s going on there.”
KANYE, TRUMP AND CHICAGO CRIME
Rapper Kanye West will lunch with Trump on Thursday to talk about, among other subjects, reducing violence in Chicago, where West grew up.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Tuesday said in a statement, “Kanye West is coming to the White House to have lunch with President Trump and he will also meet with Jared Kushner. Topics of discussions will include manufacturing resurgence in America, prison reform, how to prevent gang violence, and what can be done to reduce violence in Chicago.”
West, who maintains ties to the city where he was raised, is married to reality television star Kim Kardashian West, who successfully lobbied Trump to grant a pardon for a non-violent drug offender earlier this year.
Contributing: Fran Spielman