On the same day he bowed to pressure to fire Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday employed a time-honored tactic for Chicago mayors under siege: He announced he was creating a task force — this time on police accountability.
The five-member panel — with Chicago native and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick as its senior adviser — will be charged with recommending reforms aimed at improving “independent oversight of police misconduct” in the wake of the furor of a white police officer’s October 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald as the 17-year-old was walking away from Officer Jason Van Dyke.
The task force was further charged with strengthening an early-warning system to identify and evaluate the handful of Chicago Police officers whose conduct draws multiple citizen complaints and establishing best practices for release of videos of police-involved shootings and other incidents.
Later Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Chicago Police Department’s use of force, including deadly force.
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Madigan also asked the department’s Civil Rights Division to look into allegations of misconduct; the department’s training, equipment and supervision of officers; and whether there is a pattern of “discriminatory policing.”
“Trust in the Chicago Police Department is broken. Chicago cannot move ahead and rebuild trust between the police and the community without an outside, independent investigation into its police department to improve policing practices,” Madigan said in a statement.
In an statement Tuesday evening, U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Dena Iverson wrote: “The department will review the letter from the Illinois Attorney General.”
At the same news conference dominated by his demand for McCarthy’s resignation, Emanuel outlined his marching orders to the task force with a tight March 31 deadline to recommend reforms on better ways to go about “policing the police.”
“See if the oversight and the accountability and the discipline systems are as vigorous as they need to be and are there any changes. Two, what do we . . . not have in place or is not effective as it relates to an early warning to officers that have repeated problems. And third, how do we deal with the transparency — both to those cases, but also in making information public,” Emanuel said.
The mayor was reminded that 18 citizen complaints had been filed against Jason Van Dyke, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the McDonald shooting, but the officer was never disciplined.
Eight complaints alleged excessive force. Two involved the use of a firearm in addition to the McDonald shooting. One prompted a federal jury to award $350,000 to a man whose shoulders were injured after being roughed up by Van Dyke during a traffic stop for a missing front license plate.
“One of the problems we have is, if you have an officer with repeated challenges, how do you interdict and maybe we’re not interdicting and there are changes that need to happen,” the mayor said.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley used the task force tactic repeatedly to wiggle out of crises during his 22-year reign. Daley asked a panel of experts to recommend reforms after the Lincoln Park porch collapse and the E2 nightclub disasters triggered, in part, by bureaucratic bungling at City Hall. Daley also appointed a blue-ribbon task force to study police misconduct.
Emanuel’s five-member panel:
Hiram Grau, a former deputy police superintendent and finalist for superintendent who ran the Illinois State Police under former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. With McCarthy forced out, Grau could be a candidate for superintendent once again.
Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who is still investigating the Chicago Police officers blamed for engineering the massive police cover-up in the David Koschman case.
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, the former federal prosecutor who once ran the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, the forerunner to the Independent Police Review Authority. Lightfoot was chosen earlier this year to lead a police board with a troubling history of reversing the superintendent’s recommendations to terminate accused officers. Firings of wayward police officers have been recommended at every meeting since the new Police Board was seated.
Sergio Acosta, a former federal prosecutor now serving as a partner at the clout-heavy law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson. Acosta has served on previous mayoral task forces, including one on minority set-asides.
Randolph Stone, a former Cook County public defender-turned-professor at the University of Chicago Law School who also serves as director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project Clinic.
“The horrifying shooting of Mr. McDonald requires more than words of sadness. It requires that we act — that we take more concrete steps to prevent such abuses in the future, secure the safety and the rights of all Chicagoans and build stronger bonds of trust between our Police Department and the communities they’re sworn to protect,” the mayor said.
“While I don’t believe the actions of Officer Van Dyke reflect the vast majority of men and women who risk their lives every day to protect our lives, I also know that the use of excessive force and misuse of authority is not new in Chicago or isolated only to Chicago. There is a history of it. . . . The killing of Laquan McDonald is a vivid reminder that we have much more work to do as a city.”
In 2007, Daley severed the Office of Professional Standards from the Chicago Police Department and imported a Los Angeles attorney with sweeping new powers to restore public confidence in investigations of police wrongdoing. The name of the agency was subsequently changed to the Independent Police Review Authority.
Ilana Rosenzweig said then that the fact she was an outsider who owed no one and knew nothing about the “culture of the Chicago Police Department” would be beneficial at a time when public confidence in the Office of Professional Standards had hit rock-bottom.
Then-Police Supt. Phil Cline had just been forced out in the wake of the controversy surrounding police handling of two barroom brawls involving off-duty police officers.
A videotape of off-duty officer Anthony Abbate brutally beating a diminutive female bartender was played around the world. The other barroom incident involved six off-duty officers accused of beating four businessmen at the Jefferson Tap and Grille on Dec. 15. They remained on the job for three months while the case languished in OPS.
On Tuesday, Emanuel noted that “additional changes” may have to be made to “improve the quality, independent or timeliness of IPRA’s investigations of police involving shootings and excessive force.” Changes to the police contract may also be necessary to speed disciplinary action against wayward officers, he said.
Emanuel has been under fire for keeping the video of Van Dyke unloading 16 rounds into McDonald’s body under wraps until after the April 7 mayoral runoff and waiting until one week after the election to settle the case for $5 million even before the McDonald family had filed a lawsuit. The video was released only after a judge ordered the city to do so.
The mayor and McCarthy also have been criticized for allowing Van Dyke to be stripped of his police powers but remain on the city payroll for 13 months. He was placed on no-pay status only after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder.
Emanuel reiterated Tuesday that the city has a “longstanding policy” to keep videos and other evidence related to alleged police misconduct under wraps “pending the outcome of criminal and/or disciplinary investigations” to avoid jeopardizing those cases.
“It is clear based on this event that between the public’s desire to know, which is essential, and the integrity of an investigation, you have two principles in conflict,” he said.
“I’ve asked the commission to ask some core questions: Should we continue that practice of a default? Should it actually be the responsibility not of the city but investigatory entities?” he said. “They’ll ask a series of questions to update a protocol that nobody has updated.”
Contributing: Tina Sfondeles