Chicago Police Consent Decree Approaches 1-Year Anniversary

Sunday marks one year since a consent decree governing the Chicago Police Department’s conduct took effect.

The court-enforced overhaul of CPD practices was prompted by the murder of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer and a subsequent federal Department of Justice investigation amid the fallout from that shooting.

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“There is blood in this consent decree,” said Crista Noel, founder of Women’s All Points Bulletin, which, according to its Facebook page, aims to seek “equity, equality, balance and peace in law enforcement.”

Noel made the remark at a community meeting Thursday night in Humboldt Park organized by an independent monitoring team with legal authority to oversee the consent decree.

Several dozen participants spent roughly two hours in the Humboldt Park field house, where they broke into groups to talk about their interactions with police. Some high school students complained to a facilitator that officers regularly flick them off as they drive by in patrol cars; others expressed concerns about retaliation when they complain about police; someone else suggested activities to foster relationships with officers, like a “coffee with a cop.”

“My concern is two-fold. First of all, the public has an opinion of the police department that is not true,” said Matthew Brandon, a retired police officer who’s part of the local group Communities Organized to Win. “Yes, there are some bad actors on the police department, and instead of the police department trying to massage a message, they need to go after those people with full force and separate them from the majority of good men and women on the police department so they’re not painted with that broad brush. And then the second thing is the community has to be involved with the Chicago Police Department.”

Independent monitor Maggie Hickey said community engagement is the most important part of the consent decree, because “culture eats policy for breakfast every day.”

“We’re going to ask (participants), have you seen changes in your neighborhood, or your relationships with CPD or your neighbors? Have you heard anecdotally? And we know stories from the past, but we want to hear the stories that are currently happening and we hope that those old stories are changing and that future actions are having positive interactions with CPD,” Hickey said just before Thursday’s meeting.

A report Hickey’s office issued in mid-November found that the city was behind on implementing the decree, meeting only 13 of 50 deadlines.

A CPD spokesman on Thursday said the department is making progress, including with increased training: this year, officers will each do 32 hours of training, up from zero just a few years ago. And earlier in February, the CPD held 14 community conversations of its own, on topics ranging from hate crimes to body cameras to the use of force.

But Thursday also brought news that consent decree supporters are apt to consider a setback.

The consent decree has a goal by 2022 of lowering to a 10 to 1 ratio the number of officers per supervisor/sergeant; the CPD piloted that in one division.

The Fraternal Order of Police, however, has argued that such scheduling changes and switches or eliminations of officers’ day-off groups, cannot be done, barring a change to the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

According to the FOP’s blog and to FOP President Kevin Graham, an arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor.

“The arbitrator further ordered that any changes on Day Off G(r)oups must be negotiated,” the FOP’s blog reads. “(Arbitrator George) Roumell also ruled that the city does have the right to change start times throughout the city.” 

Graham is in a contest for a second term; the election is scheduled for March 5.

“They cannot change our contract without negotiating with us … they need to come back and negotiate with us,” Graham said. “As long as I’m here, I’m going to make sure that our members’ rights are protected.”

Graham said the city contacted the FOP “to meet with us and try and work something out.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office had no comment.

The FOP and city have been without a new agreement for more than 2.5 years.

Hickey says she won’t get involved with the nitty-gritty of the contract – but an agreement between the city and the FOP is important. 

“Having an agreement in place is very important. Part of the consent decree is that I monitor that those are moving along. So I do talk with the FOP and with CPD about how it is progressing and I think our city would benefit from having a contract in place,” she told WTTW News.

Hickey said a recent change by interim CPD Superintendent Charlie Beck bodes well. In January, Beck announced a “transformative overhaul” of the CPD’s structure, including the creation of a new Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform that will internally oversee issues relating to the consent decree, including training and community policing.

“I think that the elevation of the reporting mechanisms for the consent decree really speaks well that the leadership thinks it’s important. And as we all know, you have to have a top-down approach and a bottom-up (approach) too. I’m not saying that you don’t have to have bottom-up, but you have to have the leadership believe in and elevate the consent decree to the importance that it needs,” Hickey said.

Beck has said he is not interested in leading the CPD on a permanent basis.

The Chicago Police Board has begun searching for a new superintendent, but its President Ghian Foreman said Thursday he could give no updates on a timeline on when the board will narrow its top choices and give those recommendations to Lightfoot.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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