Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday announced changes to restore trust in the police, but stopped short of the two most controversial recommendations from his hand-picked task force: disbanding the Independent Police Review Authority and reopening the police contract.
“I don’t want to just move furniture around. I want to spend as much political capital as I have to get this right. We’ve got to get the structure right so there’s credibility in the public and credibility in the police department that there’s oversight,” Emanuel said in a telephone interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
The mayor didn’t rule out abolishing IPRA, but hinted his decision will wait until he consults with the Justice Department, which is investigating the Chicago Police Department’s “patterns and practices.” On Nov. 24, the city released a video of an officer fatally shooting a knife-wielding teen, Laquan McDonald, triggering the federal probe.
“If you’re going to make changes, you don’t want the Justice Department coming and saying, ‘You got that wrong. Now, do it again.’ These are big, heavy lifts. . . . Nothing can be worse than trying to do this twice.”
By not immediately scrapping IPRA, the mayor is giving the agency’s new executive director, Sharon Fairley, time to prove she can restore credibility in the maligned agency charged with investigating police shootings — instead of blowing it up for the second time in nine years.
“Sharon is doing a very good job. Her basic attitude is, ‘Just because we’ve been doing it that way doesn’t mean we should continue doing it that way,’ ” Emanuel said.
By initially ignoring the recommendation that he reopen the police contract, Emanuel avoids further alienating the cops he’s trying to coax out of their defensive crouch.
“Lifting morale is important. It’s essential for our ability to confront the gun violence predominantly on the South and West Sides,” the mayor said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo has ruled out changes to the collective bargaining agreement before the current contract expires on June 30, 2017.
“I know what the FOP leadership said,” Emanuel said. “My approach first is to talk to them and say to them as I did months ago, ‘No is not an answer. Let us work together. We’re going to have to make changes because there is also a Justice Department.’ ”
Instead of tackling hot-potato recommendations immediately, the mayor is doubling down on training; creating an early warning system to flag the handful of cops generating the largest number of citizen complaints; and speeding up internal investigations of problem officers.
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot led the nationwide search for a new police superintendent, only to have Emanuel bypass all three finalists and pick a candidate who didn’t apply: Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson. She also co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability, which issued its recommendations on police reform on April 13, including dismantling IPRA.
“You can’t get a report and within 4½ days make that kind of decision. That would be a big mistake,” the mayor said, noting that he adopted about a third of the recommendations.
On Wednesday, Lightfoot called the recommendations an “encouraging first step” but “much more needs to be done.”
“The task force made specific recommendations about restoring trust between the community and police that we hope will be part of the changes embraced by the police department, but don’t appear to be part of this initial set of policy recommendations,” Lightfoot said, apparently referring to IPRA.
“There’s nothing in here regarding the collective bargaining agreement. Specific provisions of the agreement that are a barrier to accountability have to be addressed,” she added.
Among the immediate changes, the department set a goal to have supervisors review disciplinary recommendations within 30 days.
“We cannot have an investigation going on two or three years,” Johnson said.
A sergeant in each of the city’s 22 districts will be designated to investigate allegations of misconduct, the police superintendent said. Those sergeants can look for patterns that might lead to extra training or discipline, he said.
Along with that, the department is developing an in-house, non-disciplinary early intervention system based on “best practices” across the country, Johnson said.
The department also is expanding training. Johnson said he’s particularly excited about having police recruits meet inner-city teens before they go out on patrol. The first get-together was held at Marshall High School on April 15.
“It gives the recruits a sense of how it is to live on the other side,” the superintendent said. “It breaks down barriers of mistrust.”
Other changes include:
• Asking the Bureau of Internal Affairs to create a third-party hotline for police officers to report misconduct by fellow officers and break the “code of silence” that Emanuel has acknowledged exists in the police department.
• Having the police department, IPRA and the city Law Department collaborate to “review officer discipline histories, patterns of alleged misconduct, civil settlements and judgments, citizen complaints and other data.” The information would be used to open new misconduct investigations and ultimately to discipline officers with “histories of excessive force.”
• Allowing Internal Affairs and IPRA to conduct administrative investigations “concurrently” with state or federal investigations unless there is an “express and compelling request from a prosecuting authority” to call a halt to those internal investigations. That was a sore point in the Laquan McDonald investigation, which dragged on for 14 months before Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald, was charged with first-degree murder.