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With Joe Biden unlikely to defund police, will his honeymoon with Chicago activists last?

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an unofficial adviser to his campaign, says the president-elect has been clear he won’t defund police —  a demand of Black Lives Matter, other groups.

Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden celebrate downtown Saturday night near Trump Tower after several major news outlets declared Biden the winner in the 2020 presidential race.
Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden celebrate downtown Saturday night near Trump Tower after several major news outlets declared Biden the winner in the 2020 presidential race.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Marchers shouted “defund the police!” during huge protests in Chicago and across America this year, but President-elect Joe Biden isn’t likely to do that, according to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an unofficial Biden campaign adviser, and others.

During his campaign, Biden said he didn’t support defunding police. He said he’d spend $300 million to hire cops and provide training as long as police departments met “basic standards of decency.”

Black Lives Matters, which led protests over George Floyd’s killing and other police-involved deaths, celebrated Biden’s victory in cities across America.

“But if their agenda is not met, there will be protests again,” said Fred Waller, former chief of operations for the Chicago police.

Biden needs to thread a needle between his tough law-and-order stance of the 1990s and activists’ calls for extensive police reform, Waller said.

Fred Waller, former chief of operations for the Chicago Police Department.
Fred Waller, former chief of operations for the Chicago Police Department.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Asked whether there’s any chance the president-elect would push to defund police, Emanuel — who worked with him in Congress and when Biden was vice president — said Monday, “He has been clear in that. No.”

Asked how Biden might still appease the Black Lives Matter movement, Emanuel said, “The attorney general appointment and the head of the civil-rights division will be key.”

Civil rights activists in Chicago say they’re focused for now on what President Donald Trump will do next.

“If Trump continues to enact an attempted coup through the courts, we must be ready to demonstrate our power in the streets, through mass actions,” Black Lives Matter and the group Lifted Voices said last week.

Biden’s victory comes as the Chicago Police Department is struggling to enact reforms and hold supervisors more accountable.

Barbara West — the deputy superintendent who was overseeing police reforms called for in a federal consent decree — retired this year after only a few months in that new job. Police Supt. David Brown’s chief of staff Robert Boik, a civilian, was named acting deputy superintendent for that position Nov. 2.

Meanwhile, CompStat, the weekly meeting at which commanders were grilled about what they’re doing to prevent crime, recently was ended. The department is looking to “retool” the program, which could be relaunched next year, police sources said. Smaller CompStat meetings have continued at the city’s five area commands.

The Biden campaign focused on the types of reforms the Chicago Police Department has been slowly enacting. His platform included revitalizing the Community Oriented Policing Services program, which pays for additional officers and “training on how to undertake a community policing approach.”

Biden also pledged to reduce the number of people in prison while still reducing crime, to root out discrimination in the justice system and to push for rehabilitation. He said he’d spend $20 billion to spur states to shift their priorities from incarceration to crime prevention and $1 billion a year to improve the juvenile justice system.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Police Committee, said he expects Biden to “leave it to states and local municipalities to decide” whether to defund police. “I don’t think he’s going to even touch it,” Beale said.

But the alderman said he doesn’t think Biden is headed for an early showdown with Black Lives Matter.

“I think they’ll give him an opportunity to come up with a strategic plan and leave it up to local municipalities,” he said.

The police department released a one-line statement Monday saying the police and the mayor’s office “look forward to working closely with the incoming administration on shared priorities and issues facing our police officers and the residents that they serve.”

Trump frequently has blasted Chicago and other “liberal-run cities” for their crime problems. Early this year, he launched Operation Legend in Chicago to make more federal gun arrests.

Trump and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have traded insults on Twitter.

“But Biden can work with her,” a City Hall insider said. Lightfoot’s “star rises the farther away you get from Chicago,” the source said, pointing to her role earlier this year as chairman of a working group on policing for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

One source in politics said some in Chicago hope former President Barack Obama will help focus Biden on the city’s crime problems.

“Obama kind of forgot about Chicago when he was president,” the source said. “Maybe he will become more involved behind the scenes.”

Waller said he worries that whatever Biden does regarding police won’t be enough for some.

“My biggest fear is that a lot of anti-police sentiment will go on in the streets,” he said.