An old-school Chicago newspaper photographer who retired decades ago once told us how he worked with the cops to get mugshots of crime suspects.
An officer would parade the alleged perpetrator through the police station on a “perp walk” and the photographer would snap away. If the perp lowered his head, making for a bad photo, the cop would punch him in the gut. The perp would snap to stunned attention.
Newspapers don’t do that sort of thing anymore, thank God, and cops couldn’t get away with it. Times have changed for the better, with a greater social consensus that cops must respect civil liberties, and there are security cameras everywhere, even in police stations.
Today, the perp would sue — and win.
We tell this story to illustrate a point. Reform of the Chicago Police Department must go on, no matter how much Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the local cop union, the Fraternal Order of Police, would like it to end. There is no going back.
If Sessions and the FOP think a court-monitored consent decree to overhaul the department will make the police less effective, and even sour community relationships, they’re kidding themselves. In too many Chicago neighborhoods, there is no relationship and never was. In some neighborhoods, everybody feels like they’re doing a perp walk.
Sessions and the FOP are living in the past. Reform of the police department, by way of a consent decree, is not an impediment to good police work. It is the path forward.
The best police work begins with the trust of the community, and all Chicagoans want to feel that trust. They want and need the protection of the police. They want to work with CPD to make their neighborhoods safer.
As it stands, though, CPD’s reputation among African-Americans is so poor that the police struggle to recruit sufficient numbers of black officers.
We recently talked with a young African American man — a former Marine and upstanding citizen — who came close to joining the department, passing the necessary exams. But he couldn’t get past his memories, he told us, of how the police had harassed him when he was growing up on the South Side. So he changed course. Now he’s a youth mentor for a social service agency.
About 21 percent of CPD’s sworn officers are African-American and, as the accompanying chart from the Chicago inspector general’s office shows, they are disproportionately older compared with Latino and white officers.
As they retire, the percentage of African Americans on the force will shrink unless the city does a better job of recruitment.
Yet Sessions on Wednesday, in one of his last acts before being forced out as attorney general, signed an order limiting the Justice Department’s ability to use consent decrees to make changes in police departments. He called consent decrees a handicap to local law enforcement.
That should not affect Chicago’s consent decree, which was worked out between the city and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. But Sessions is doing Chicago no favors by sending a baseless message that strict respect for civil liberties is antithetical to effective police work.
In the same way, the FOP is undermining the ability of Chicagoans to support the police with its constant apologetics for the worst behavior by officers. We fail to understand the FOP’s outrage that a jury — a mostly white jury — found Officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder for pumping 16 bullets into a teenager with a knife who was walking away.
If the killing of Laquan McDonald was not second-degree murder, then what use of deadly force by an officer is left that the FOP might object to?
The FOP contract includes several provisions designed to obscure the truth of any police misconduct. Most bizarrely, it allows officers to wait 24 hours before providing a statement after a police-involved shooting and — get this — allows them to amend their statements after reviewing video or audio evidence.
As part of comprehensive police reform, that contract needs work.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is on board with the consent decree, though at first he was reluctant. The next mayor of Chicago must be just as much on board — and prepared to drive a hard bargain on the next police contract.
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