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FOP asks U.S. Supreme Court to strengthen its hand in contract talks with city

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

The Fraternal Order of Police is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strengthen its hand in contract talks with the city — by allowing the union to join the lawsuit that culminated in a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.

In early January, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld U.S. District Judge Robert Dow’s decision, reached last summer, that barred the police union from intervening in the lawsuit between City Hall and then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

In doing so, the appellate court noted the FOP waited “for nearly a year” to try to intervene, despite realizing the consent decree might affect its interests. The court also described as “largely speculative” the FOP’s fear that the consent decree would violate its collective bargaining agreement.

“As things stand now, the consent decree cannot impair the CBA or state law rights enjoyed by Chicago police officers,” the federal appeals court wrote then.

“That will change only if the district court concludes that federal law requires the abrogation of those rights.”

Weeks later, Dow approved the consent decree. In March, he chose Maggie Hickey, a former Illinois executive inspector general to serve as federal monitor to ride herd over the historic and widespread reforms.

In a surprise move, retired U.S. District Judge David Coar was chosen to assist Hickey.

In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the lower court rulings, the FOP makes a fundamental argument about the timeliness of its motion to intervene.

The union is essentially claiming it was “deceived” by the Illinois Attorney General’s office into believing that the consent decree would not impact the police contract.

As soon as the union learned otherwise, the petition to intervene in the lawsuit was filed.

“We are seeking to overturn the lower court decision not allowing us to intervene on the consent decree,” the FOP’s second vice-president Martin Preib said in an emailed statement.

“We are taking this action to protect our contract and statutory rights. If we prevail and reverse the lower court ruling, this consent decree goes back to Judge Dow, who also has the authority to rule on a host of elemental issues that are important to police officers.”

The attorney general’s office and the city Law Department had no immediate comment.

Earlier this week, FOP President Kevin Graham urged Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot to start negotiating the new police contract that Rahm Emanuel punted, but slammed the door on disciplinary changes outlined in the federal consent decree.

The City Council’s Black Caucus has threatened to hold up ratification of any police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and require sworn affidavits.

But after a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Graham made it clear that an FOP that fought the consent decree tooth and nail was not about to agree to anonymous complaints.

“Nowhere in our society do we have people that do not face their accusers. That’s just wrong,” Graham said.

“People are not afraid to come forward. If it’s important, they will do it. Police officers don’t go after people because somebody makes a complaint on them. That’s ridiculous.”

Graham was equally adamant about retaining — and maybe even increasing — the 24-hour waiting period before statements are given after a police shooting.

“Why should federal agents have 72 hours and we only have 24?” he said.

Lightfoot responded that the FOP’s position on disciplinary changes has been “clear for a while now — certainly well over a year.”

Still, the mayor-elect held her ground.

“This is gonna be a different kind of contract. We’re obviously gonna be pressing on other issues that haven’t [gotten] the level of prominence that they will this time around,” she said.

“I know they have very specific ideas of what should be in and what shouldn’t and we’re gonna figure out ways in which we can meet in the middle. But there’s a statement of values around accountability that we’re gonna press for. And I feel confident that we’re gonna be able to make some changes in those contracts so we’re consistent with the reforms that are already in place and that are anticipated by the consent decree.”