What Maggie Hickey’s Appointment Means for Chicago Police Reform

The Chicago Police Department now has a monitor to oversee big reforms. U.S. District Judge Robert Dow on Friday appointed to the position Maggie Hickey, a partner at the law firm Schiff Hardin, after several people applied for the job.

Hickey is a familiar name in political and legal circles across the city and state. She is the former chief of staff and chief legal counsel to former Illinois Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, she was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office, and served as Illinois’ executive inspector general. In 2018, she was named to oversee a review of Chicago Public Schools’ policies in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal.

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In addition to the hiring of Hickey, Dow appointed retired federal Judge David Coar to be a special master. In this position, Coar will oversee the federal monitor and act as a full-time judge and arbiter of the process. Coar’s resume includes stints as a U.S. bankruptcy and district court judge. He’s currently a case manager at JAMS – an arbitration and mediation group.

So the chain of command is as follows: The CPD reports to Hickey, Hickey reports to Coar, and then Coar ultimately reports to Dow, who will be busy with the full slate of other cases he has.

Attorney Ron Safer, who had also applied to be the monitor, says the process of implementing the protocols to monitor reforms could take up to three years, and the entire federal oversight period could last decades.

“It’s going to have a profound impact on every aspect of a police officer’s life, through training, operations, what they do on the street, what they have to report once they get back to the station, and whether they’re going to be held accountable for that conduct,” Safer said. “Every one of those things is changing.”

Already, Hickey has deadlines to meet.

“The first 75 days, the monitor is going to create a plan for benchmarks and a time period of her assessments of whether CPD is in compliance,” said Karen Sheley, director of the Police Practices Project for the ACLU of Illinois. “At 90 days from Friday, the public will know what the plan is and how the CPD is going to start structuring it’s work.”

The whole process was sparked by the release in 2015 of video showing the fatal shooting of black Chicago teen Laquan McDonald by white police Officer Jason Van Dyke. A federal review then found a pattern of misconduct and racism in Chicago policing. The consent decree is the end product of subsequent investigations and negotiations. It calls for reforms such as stronger community policing, better crisis-intervention training, stronger measures for police accountability and discipline, and a controversial provision that require officers to document every instance in which they point a firearm at someone. They also have to document every time they engage in a foot chase.

The Fraternal Order of Police has fought unsuccessfully to be a party to these negotiations and filed another motion Friday. The union says it believes the decree will hamstring its members and says that a lot of these changes must be negotiated in a new collective bargaining agreement.

Meanwhile, neither Hickey nor Coar were available for interviews Monday, but Hickey’s law firm did issue a statement:

“We are humbled by the trust the city and state have placed in our team to do this important work on behalf of the people of Chicago. We know this is a pivotal time in our city's history and the Schiff Hardin-CNA team looks forward to working with our communities, CPD, the city and the state, Judge Coar, and Judge Dow, to make Chicago a safer city.”

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

Related stories:

Judge Names Monitor to Help Oversee Chicago Police Reforms

Head of Chicago Police Union Sounds Alarm on Consent Decree

Chicago Police Watchdog: ‘Every Profession’ Has a Code of Silence

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