A year after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability issued a scathing 190-page report, we wish we could say the job of getting Chicago’s police and neighborhoods on the same page was virtually finished.
But as Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, who headed the commission, told Fran Spielman in Friday’s Sun-Times, progress in some areas has been painfully slow.
It’s simpler to discuss reforms than to get them in place and ensure they work as intended. Moving too quickly can open the mayor and city to charges of not waiting for input. Moving too deliberately can invite complaints about foot-dragging.
And Emanuel’s job didn’t appear to get any easier on Wednesday when rank-and-file police officers elected a new union president, Officer Kevin Graham, who has made it clear he will be more outspoken and aggressive, including on matters of police reform, than predecessor Dean Angelo.
But we think most Chicagoans want a Police Department that operates at the highest level of professionalism and accountability. That requires getting necessary reforms into place sooner rather than later.
Among her criticisms, Lightfoot said no one is taking a leadership role in identifying problem officers while the city gets an internal accountability program in place; a community policing program created 35 years ago has been “allowed to wither on the vine”; training has been reactive, not proactive, and lacks a forward-looking strategic plan; the department lacks a chief diversity officer; Internal Affairs, which should be putting out at least quarterly reports, is not transparent, and the mayor is risking sowing distrust by remaining silent on police contract negotiations.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pulled the plug on the Department of Justice’s effort to help local police departments around the nation reform how their policies affect civil liberties. That puts the onus on the mayor and Police Department to get it right in Chicago.
Emanuel hasn’t been sitting still. Besides appointing the police reform task force, he has announced plans to hire hundreds more cops, and promised to improve the Police Department culture; worked to improve the department’s diversity and sought ways to help police deal with the mentally ill and situations that might call for use of force.
But the time to get this right is not unlimited. Earlier this year, we called for the city to appoint its own independent monitor to ensure reforms are completed. We renew that call today.
Getting reform right is important. But so is getting it in place in a timely manner.
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