Illinois attorney general makes the case for licensing police officers

Kwame Raoul also complained that getting the Chicago Police Department to comply with the terms of a federal consent decree has been, at times, “like pulling teeth.”

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Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is beating the drum for licensing police officers and complaining that getting the Chicago Police Department to comply with a federal consent decree has been, at times, “like pulling teeth.”

Federal monitor Maggie Hickey reported last fall that CPD had missed 37 of 50 deadlines to implement specific police reforms in the first six months of a court order outlining the terms of federal court oversight. That trend showed little improvement with Hickey’s latest report, which showed the city missing nearly 70% of its court-ordered deadlines.

Earlier this month, Hickey agreed to investigate allegations that Chicago police officers used excessive force against protesters during demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

After that virtual hearing before a federal judge, Raoul issued a statement saying the city “owes the community it serves meaningful reform — not lip service, not Band-Aids and not politics.”

Now Raul is turning up the heat on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and newly-appointed CPD Supt. David Brown to pick up the pace on a compliance process that, he said, “hasn’t gotten off to a good start.”

“Sometimes it’s just pulling teeth to get compliance with just producing documents. ... Some of it has been pulling teeth to get COPA to realize they’re part of the deal too. When we talk about reform, we’re talking about reforming the whole thing,” the attorney general said Thursday.

“We’re not in this process to beat up the police. We are a law enforcement agency ourselves. ... We don’t want to fight law enforcement. While we’re officially an adversary in terms of the court proceeding, we should look at this as working together toward change rather than, ‘We don’t want to do this. We want to do as little as possible.’”

Before returning to his hometown of Los Angeles, Interim Supt. Charlie Beck ordered a sweeping reorganization that made Barbara West the No. 3 official in the department. She’s now deputy superintendent of the new Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, which includes the police academy, overseeing consent decree compliance.

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“She had to inherit a lot of folks. You can’t wave a magic wand and know everybody who is efficient in moving things forward and who’s not and resistant. It takes a little time to go through the process of evaluating all of that personnel,” he said.

Five years ago, after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Raoul, then a state senator, tried to push a police reform package through the Illinois General Assembly; that package included licensing for police officers.

He dropped the licensing idea after resistance from law enforcement because he “didn’t want to sink” a package that also included body cameras, increased training requirements and a database of officers who had resigned or been fired after internal investigations.

Now, the licensing idea is gaining political momentum. Lightfoot has signed on. So has Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police vows to fight the idea. But Raoul said the current disciplinary system has failed. And certification alone is not enough.

“You pretty much have to be convicted of certain felonies and maybe one or two misdemeanors to be de-certified,” Raoul said.

Derek Chauvin, the officer facing multiple murder charges in Floyd’s death, had “18 complaints of misconduct against him. There were a number of complaints against Jason Van Dyke. If you had an opportunity to go to an independent licensing body for consideration, perhaps you would not have had the Laquan McDonald shooting. Perhaps if the state of Minnesota had something similar, George Floyd might” still be alive, he said.

Raoul also pushed for changes to a Chicago police contract that gives officers 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and prohibits anonymous complaints against officers.

The attorney general argued people are “fearful” to file a complaint against police officers and he is a prime example of that fear.

Three times, he was stopped and verbally harassed by police without apology because he was told he “fit the description” of a criminal. In one case, he was teenager and the police officer pulled a gun on him. In another, he was a prosecutor dressed in a suit with the key to his own car who was told he “fit the description” of an auto thief.

Not once did he file a report. He was, he said, just happy to come out of it alive.

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