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Cops union to federal appeals court: ‘They shut us out’ of consent decree

The Fraternal Order of Police protested in front of City Hall in May over the consent decree and other issues. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

At issue in federal court: Did Chicago’s biggest police union wait too long to object to an agreement between the city and state to reform policing in Chicago?

In August, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow answered yes, denying a bid by the Fraternal Order of Police to intervene in the lawsuit that produced the consent decree; the FOP had argued that the decree interfered with their contract with the city.

The union appealed, and on Friday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case.

The 225-page consent decree was born of a lawsuit against the city filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan over its policing policies, following an investigation by Barack Obama’s Department of Justice that found a pattern of bias against African-Americans and Latinos and excessive force.


FOP attorney Joel D’Alba told the court the FOP had not been allowed to see drafts of the decree or sit in on talks between the city and state in which it was discussed.

In the interim, they had relied on assurances from the Illinois attorney general that their contract with the city would be protected — and should not now be put at a disadvantage, D’Alba said.

“What’s even more amazing? They tell the world they have a consent decree built on transparency, so the world will know everything a police officer does, from the moment he leaves his car to the moment he takes an enforcement action,” D’Alba said. “They shut us out. That’s not transparency.”

Brett Legner, representing the state, echoed Judge Dow’s August decision: FOP leadership loudly and publicly objected to the consent decree throughout the project, and could not claim to have only realized nine months in that it needed to get involved.

Anyway, Legner said, the consent decree had been designed to protect the contract between the city and its police officers.

“The consent decree does not prejudice FOP’s interests. The FOP’s interests are protected,” Legner said, pointing in part to provisions saying that any lawful part of the contract would win out in any conflict with the consent decree.

“He says we don’t have any loss, with regard to this matter? That’s our decision to make, your honor,” D’Alba said in his rebuttal.

Circuit Judge Michael Kanne asked Legner about the implications of a filing by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also opposes the decree; Legner called that filing is “irrelevant” to the consent decree lawsuit.

The decree would allow a judge to enforce the city’s compliance with a set of policing reforms, including: an overhaul of the department’s use-of-force policies; steps to preserve evidence of police misconduct; and increased counseling resources for officers.

In late October, Dow oversaw hearings in which members of the public, including policing reform activists and police officers, gave their opinion on the proposed decree.

On Saturday, city residents will be able to weigh in on four bids to serve as independent police monitor; the monitor will report to Dow on the department’s progress in implementing the decree.