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Lori Lightfoot picks apart draft consent decree

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot

Former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot held a news conference on Monday to discuss the proposed consent decree governing the Chicago Police Department. Lightfoot is a candidate for mayor. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot on Monday demanded that specific dollars, stronger language and a longer public comment period be added to a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.

A former Police Board president, Lightfoot co-chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability whose blistering critique of the police department after the police shooting of Laquan McDonald set the stage for the U.S. Justice Department to do the same and laid the groundwork for federal court oversight.

She spent the weekend pouring over the draft, 225-page consent decree released late Friday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and retiring Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

On Monday, Lightfoot held a news conference to articulate concerns that go beyond the dispute over whether the police department should be required to document every instance in which an officer points a gun at someone.

Chief among those concerns is the 21-day period for public comment. Lightfoot said that’s too short to expect the general public to read and analyze the consent decree and should be extended to 45 days.

Equally troubling is the absence of “specific dollars.” Lightfoot pegged the annual cost for the monitor alone at $2.5 million and said the pricetag to implement the reforms is likely to be $10 million-a-year. She wants those dollar figures written into the decree itself.

Beyond that, Lightfoot flagged “concerns” about the language in the agreement. They include the fact that:

• Many parts of the decree simply require documentation of policies already in place.

“If what the department is required to do is simply document policies that already exist, I can guarantee you that…very soon after the court approves of this draft consent decree, there’s gonna be a rush to do a victory lap and say that we’ve reached substantial compliance before the hard work even gets done,” Lightfoot said.

• A monitor would have until January, 2021 to decide whether a specific foot pursuit policy that the DOJ report described as pivotal would be needed.

Lightfoot pointed to the video released last week of the police shooting of Maurice Granton, “who ran away from the police discarded his gun, but was shot in the back as he attempted to climb a fence.”

“This video underscores the urgency right now of the department adopting a fulsome general order on foot pursuit policy and we shouldn’t wait until 2021,” she said.

• The choke hold policy articulated in the decree simply prohibits officers from using choke holds, “if there is an intent to reduce the intake of air or put pressure on a person’s airways.”

“Choke holds are dangerous. They should be prohibited pure and simple,”  Lightfoot said.

• The policy governing firing firearms and firing into a crowd simply states that officers should consider their surroundings and take reasonable precautions.

Lightfoot noted that the police department’s general order on use-of-force is “much more robust” and prohibits firing into crowds. The consent decree should apply that language, instead of, what she called “this slimmed-down version.”

• The consent decree is virtually silent on three pressing concerns: civilian oversight over the police department; “out-of-control” settlements stemming for allegations of police wrongdoing and the “low and absolutely unacceptable homicide clearance rate.”

• Vague, undefined and ambiguous language running throughout the consent decree without saying who gets to decide whether CPD is measuring up.

“It should be explicit…that the monitor gets to decide. The ambiguity and the absence will lead to unnecessary litigation,” she said.

• There is no “line of demarcation” between the monitor and the deputy inspector general for public safety, inviting “all sorts of problems that could arise and conflicts over jurisdiction,” Lightfoot said.

• Language in the section about “supervisor-led investigations” has the “potential to undercut and conflict with” the mandate for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Ann Spillane, Madigan’s chief of staff, took issue with virtually every point that Lightfoot raised.

She argued that the initial 21-day public comment period is an “extra period that normally doesn’t happen” before a consent decree is filed in federal court.

Judge Robert Dow Jr. is “very likely” to hold another comment period, as well as an open hearing, she said.

Spillane also defended the decision to avoid using specific dollar figures for the monitor and the reforms themselves.

She noted that the request for proposals to potential monitors asks them what they anticipate their budgets to be with those figures being “an important component in determining whether candidates have a realistic understanding and capacity to do this job.”

“The reason it’s not in there is because the goal of this decree is to get the city in compliance with the Constitution and there’s not gonna be a limit placed on what the city has to do,” Spillane said.

“There will be discussions going forward on what’s realistic for the city to do when. I’m not implying that money is not a thought or a component that will be discussed. But the important thing will be that these requirements are things the city will be held to.”

Spillane accused Lightfoot of “misreading” the section pertaining to choke holds and criticized her for “cherry-picking” one section of the decree pertaining to foot pursuits.

Currently, the police department does not track or analyze data on foot pursuits.

The draft decree requires that process to begin in January, 2019 –– even for those foot pursuits that don’t end up in the use of force. CPD also must analyze the link between foot pursuits and use of force and train officers on best practices for foot pursuits.

“The policy provision which is not for a few years is out there if all of this other stuff fails. Then, they have to re-write the policy, put another policy in place and train again,” Spillane said.