How much have Chicago Police Department procedures, attitudes and relations with minority communities changed since City Hall reluctantly released the Laquan McDonald shooting video a year ago?
And how committed is Mayor Rahm Emanuel to reforming a department that’s disrespected and abused people of color for decades?
The answers depend on whom you ask, so the Better Government Association invited five people who follow policing issues closely to share their thoughts at last week’s BGA Idea Forum entitled “Laquan’s Legacy: Police Reform in Chicago.”
♦ Lori Lightfoot, who headed the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Reform and chairs the Chicago Police Board, cites three significant steps taken by City Hall in recent months: Creating a new and improved oversight panel to investigate alleged police misconduct, funding new law enforcement watchdog positions in the Chicago inspector general’s office, and announcing a new policy for releasing shooting videos in a timely manner.
But, cautions Lightfoot, those changes were only adopted after community outrage sparked citywide protests over the McDonald shooting, and she encourages activists to keep the heat on City Hall to implement the reforms quickly, including empowerment of a community-based oversight panel.
♦ Frank Chapman, an organizer with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, promises more activism, but he says the current system is undemocratic, irrevocably broken and the mayor can’t be trusted to quarterback the reform process.
His group is demanding local control through an elected community oversight panel, not one appointed by the mayor.
♦ Anne Kirkpatrick, a former Washington state police chief who heads CPD’s new accountability office, admits that restoring officer morale, affirming the department’s legitimacy and building citizen trust are daunting challenges that require strong supervisors, especially field sergeants willing to confront CPD’s history of mistreating minorities and maintaining a “code of silence” that tolerates misconduct.
She says internal reforms are well underway, including development of a new policy on the use of force and department-wide training programs that emphasize professional, respectful policing.
♦ Rebecca Raines, criminal justice chair of the NAACP’s West Side branch, hasn’t seen much change or community involvement so far, and she says disrespect is still rampant, claiming several cops made demeaning comments to residents while investigating recent West Side incidents.
♦ Jamie Kalven, the independent journalist who investigated the McDonald shooting for his award-winning “Sixteen Shots” story, says police reform is only one piece of a larger puzzle that includes repairing a broken criminal justice system and rebuilding inner-city neighborhoods devastated by inadequate housing and schools and a lack of jobs.
He sympathizes with good cops who face danger daily in dystopian neighborhoods, and demoralizing fallout from the McDonald shooting, and he laments City Hall’s inadequate commitment to addressing the problems.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department continues its investigation of CPD’s history of torn race relations, but we don’t know if the inquiry will be impacted by the new Trump administration.
Concurrently, police officer Jason Van Dyke is facing murder charges for fatally shooting McDonald, and a special prosecutor is investigating cops who allegedly fabricated reports to protect Van Dyke.
Finally, the forum raised several other troubling questions that cry out for answers: Why hasn’t the local U.S. Attorney’s office, which investigated the McDonald shooting, filed any charges? Did their investigation reach into the mayor’s office? And if it’s “case closed,” why not tell us?
Their silence is deafening.
So here we are, a year later, with a lot of reform in the air but not much on the ground yet.
Andy Shaw is President and CEO of the Better Government Association.
Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: @andyshawbga