It looks like Mayor Rahm Emanuel may well be on his own — without court oversight — to implement the sweeping police reforms recommended by the U.S. Justice Department in the waning days of the Obama administration.
In media interviews Monday and a speech delivered Tuesday to the National Association of Attorneys General, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticized the Obama DOJ’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department as “pretty anecdotal and not so scientifically based.” That’s even though Sessions acknowledged that he has only read the summary of the 161-page report.
To the cheers of the police union, Sessions sent his strongest signal to date that he was more concerned about supporting demoralized police officers than he was about negotiating a consent decree culminating in the hiring of a federal monitor to make certain police reforms are implemented in a timely fashion, no matter what it costs local taxpayers.
During the speech, Sessions noted that homicide rates in Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Memphis had returned to “levels not seen in two decades.” He specifically mentioned more than 4,000 shooting victims and 762 murders last year in Chicago.
“Unfortunately in recent years, law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors. Our officers, deputies and troopers believe the political leadership of this country abandoned them. Their morale has suffered. And last year, amid this intense public scrutiny and criticism, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty increased 10 percent over the year before,” Sessions was quoted as saying in his prepared remarks.
To “confront the challenge of rising crime,” Sessions said local law enforcement must “lead the way and they must know they have our steadfast support.”
“For the federal government, that means this: Rather than dictating to local police how to do their jobs — or spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court — we should use our money, research and expertise to help them figure out what is happening and determine the best ways to fight crime,” he said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to Sessions’ remarks by reiterating that there is no turning back on the road to police reform.
Although the mayor has signed an “agreement in principle” to negotiate a consent decree that may never happen, he promised once again to implement the reforms without or without court oversight.
“I don’t want to do what Ferguson, Cleveland or Baltimore have done. We’re not gonna do it to officers. We are gonna listen to what officers need and actually give them the support so they can be professional and pro-active,” the mayor said.
“We’re gonna continue to do reforms because they are the things that officers ask: better training, better technology . . . High professional standards and pro-active policing go hand-in-hand. And we are gonna make the reforms that are necessary . . . That’s in our self-interest . . . so our police officers have the support and the confidence to do their job.”
He added, “We should have been giving our officers . . . the type of training they need to distinguish mental health calls from crime calls . . . We should have had . . . a schedule [to provide] body cameras for our officers. It gives them the confidence to do their job. We’re gonna have that now. We should have had . . . every officer trained on how to use a Taser and a Taser available. We should have had . . . training that was relevant to what they would experience. They’re gonna have that. Reform and proactive policing go hand in hand.”
Sessions’ decision to poke holes in the DOJ report was music to the ears of Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo.
So was the attorney’s general’s claim that police morale has plummeted because politicians across the nation have “abandoned” support for police officers.
“Mr. Sessions has echoed exactly what I’ve been saying for a long, long time. We have someone with a voice besides mine echoing my position for my members.”
“I said this back in August of 2015 — that they’re more concerned about the police contract. Even recently, the Black Caucus brings up our contract rights when we were burying three babies. And they’re worried about a 24-hour statement clause. Are you kidding me? They are so off base. I applaud Mr. Sessions’ statement. It’s about time that someone realizes that the priorities in Chicago about crime and policing have been completely upside-down for far too long.”
After hearing what Sessions had to say, Angelo rated the chances that the Trump administration will pursue a consent decree mandating police reforms recommended by the Justice Department as “between slim and none.”
If Sessions is more concerned about crime than punishing, what the attorney general calls a “few bad apples,” he should start by pressuring the Chicago Police Department to eliminate the so-called “investigative stop report” that has prompted street stops to plummet, Angelo said.
“That stops police from being pro-active . . . Let the police do their job without any sort of dark cloud hovering over them that they’re going to lose their job by being policemen. Our job is to put those bad guys in jail. It’s turned into an environment that does not encourage that. If you do your job, you risk losing your job. That has got to stop,” Angelo said.
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot co-chaired Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability. Their report laid the groundwork for the DOJ’s findings.
Ever since President Donald Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Lightfoot has believed that court oversight in Chicago was a long-shot at best.
“Even if the Department of Justice decides to go in a different direction, there are lots of other ways in which reform can and should happen” by political pressure “applied by stakeholders on the ground,” Lightfoot said.
“Obviously, if the Department of Justice is holding the proverbial sword of Damocles over the mayor’s head, that’s a very different pressure point. But that doesn’t mean that change won’t come. It’s already coming. . . . There will be people here in Chicago who will continue to bring pressure to make sure that our police department is engaged in constitutional, respectful policing. And that the investments that need to be made to help officers are made.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he does not believe the DOJ report on Chicago is “anecdotal” or somehow lacking in evidence of the sweeping civil rights violations it alleged.
“But if that’s his feeling, we can go on and do the things that we have to do and take the report as a roadmap to . . . improve police and community relations,” Sawyer said.
“We have a variety of community activists and a lot of groups that want to see true police reform. They want to see implementation of the DOJ reports. And all eyes are watching us.”
Il. Attorney General Lisa Madigan was in the audience for Sessions’ speech, but later declined an invitation to join roughly two dozen attorneys general from across the nation meeting with Trump at the White House.
“I called for the DOJ investigation based on serious concerns about the Chicago Police Department’s use of force and officer misconduct and accountability. Everyone realizes these concerns still remain and must be addressed to help rebuild the trust between CPD and the community,” Madigan was quoted as saying in a statement released by her Chicago office.
The DOJ report portrayed a biased police department stuck in the Stone Age, from training that relies on 35-year-old videos to outdated pursuit tactics that imperil suspects, officers and innocent bystanders.
It laid bare years of civil rights violations by officers accused of verbally abusing minorities, shooting at people who pose no threat and Tasering others simply because they refused to follow verbal commands.
Trump campaigned on a promise to remove the shackles from police officers and stop the bloodbath on Chicago streets by returning to stop-and-frisk policing.
Throughout the campaign and since taking office, he has hammered Chicago about its unrelenting gang violence and threatened to “Send in the FEDS” if Emanuel can’t find a way to stop the bloodshed.