It’s been a year since former Chicago Police Office Jason Van Dyke was convicted of murdering 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
“A lot of positive steps have been taken since then,” said Sharon Fairley, who has served as chief administrator of both the Independent Police Review Authority and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. “Oversight agencies are being much more transparent. Use of force data is being published.”
And yet, she says, there is still a long way to go. Officers accused of unjustified use of deadly force are rarely fired, Fairley said. In a June 2019 Chicago Tribune commentary, Fairley pointed out that many people don’t realize that when COPA recommends an officer be fired for an unjustified use of deadly force, the case moves to the Chicago Police Board, which is the only city entity with the legal power to do so.
“Since January 2016, the Police Board has ruled on four cases in which COPA recommended that an officer be fired either because the officer used deadly force without justification, or was accused of lying about an unjustified use of deadly force. But, the board has yet to fire a single officer in these cases,” she said.
Jamie Kalven is an independent journalist and executive director of the Invisible Institute. His reporting was instrumental in bringing attention to the 2014 shooting of McDonald and forcing release of the critical dashcam videos. Kalven has continued to report on issues of police misconduct, including the 2018 fatal police shooting of Harith Augustus, a 37-year-old Chicago barber.
When it comes to issues of police misconduct, Kalven says he’s reluctant to offer an opinion on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. But he does offer this: “I remain convinced that we have a once-in-a-generation chance for meaningful change” because they have been “incentivized to show up” on the issue.
“In the last five years, every change we’ve seen has been a result of citizen pressure and we should be proud of that,” he said. In fact, he says, the danger of the new Chicago Police consent decree is that some people may feel they can now pass the issue on to the experts. “It’s great to have the consent decree and great to have a new mayor but the real agent of change is citizen pressure,” he said.
The Chicago Police Department and Fraternal Order of Police declined to be interviewed for this story.