Chicago’s Next Steps in Reforming the Police

The conditions under which Chicago police officers can use force will be reviewed by a new community working group, but even before its work begins in earnest the group itself is under a degree of scrutiny.

“Ultimately our goal is simple: Create better policies and better training for our officers in order to empower them to address situations appropriately and to prevent incidents stemming from excessive force in the future,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday at a press conference announcing the new 20-member group. “The best way to do that is by making sure that the community has a seat at the table at the beginning of this process and that anything that we do reflects the community interest and needs.”

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The group is to be co-chaired by Chicago Police Department Deputy Chief Ernest Cato III and Arewa Karen Winters of Justice for Families and The 411 Movement for Pierre Loury.

Loury, Winters’ nephew, died after he was shot by a CPD officer in 2016.

Winters said she is “furious” that certain police officers have kept their jobs, even after being involved in fatal shootings.

“Other cities are firing them and here they get 30 days desk duty and then they return back to the streets in our communities. As far as I’m concerned, psychopaths with guns,” she said. “I am infuriated.”

Winters said she will do her work with integrity, and that she won’t be afraid to be honest – including if it means calling something to the intention of the federal judge charged with overseeing the CPD’s compliance with a consent decree put in place on the heels of the shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by Jason Van Dyke, a white former police officer.

“In this trilogy between myself and the mayor and the (CPD) Superintendent (David Brown), I have more power because I can go straight up to the federal judge to get enforcement,” Winters said.

Such remarks were an immediate turnoff for Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, who said Lightfoot should have put an immediate end to Monday’s press conference when Winters said them.

He said any discussion about police reforms needs to begin from an unbiased place.

“(Winters) clearly has an axe to grind. She is not an unbiased individual whatsoever. She clearly hates the police,” he said. “How we put somebody like that in charge of making decisions and policy is beyond me.”

Advocates for police accountability are likewise suspect of Catanzara, who took over the reins of the local FOP lodge last month and who has been the subject of several dozen misconduct allegations throughout his quarter decade with the CPD.

Catanzara also said further limitations on use of force would be dangerous for police, given that it would cause officers to second guess their decisions during life-or-death situations.

He points out that it was only a few years ago that Chicago last revised its use-of-force policy, which required training in de-escalation tactics and calls for officers to resort to force only if all other alternatives have been exhausted.

While Lightfoot was not mayor at the time, she was head of the police board.

“She was pretty knee-deep in that redoing of it, so if it needs to be redone now it means that she didn’t do it right the first time,” Catanzara said.

It’s one of many issues in which the FOP and the Lightfoot administration are at loggerheads, even as the two sides are tasked with reaching a new contract.

The last FOP contract expired in the summer of 2017.

Lightfoot said the use-of-force review is the “latest on a road to reform” that began during her time with the police board, has been amplified since she became mayor a year ago, and has accelerated since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

“That means taking the FOP head-on and insuring the police union contract represents our city’s values. All of our city’s values,” she said. “And requiring licensing for police officers once and for all, just as we do with so many other professions.”

The FOP is “dead set” against police licensing.

Catanzara said it’s a buzzword, and that all police in Illinois are already certified by a state police training and standards board.

“There’s protocol. This is just another layer. It’s an attempt to get rid of the collective bargaining rights and break the union,” he said. “And shame on the Democrats who are supposed to be pro-union to even entertain this conversation.”

Top Democrats including Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Gov. J.B. Pritzker back licensing police.

Meanwhile, activists and progressive members of the Chicago City Council say that Lightfoot is not going far enough with her calls for reform.

The mayor has called for the CPD within 90 days to adopt training for officers on the history of the neighborhoods they patrol, crisis intervention training, new police-community relations programs and an officer wellness program and early intervention system for police experiencing wellness issues or who have experienced crises.

“She’s not going far enough. And she continues to thank the police. So we’re protesting police brutality and the police are literally beating up peaceful protestors. You don’t thank them, you thank the people of Chicago for cleaning it up so fast,” she said.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) has her own ideas for reforms that need to be adopted, including sensitivity training and automatically putting offices involved in police shootings on desk duty for at 60 days.

“Automatically you’re taken off the street as an investigation. That puts trust back in the community,” she said. “We need to have therapy for any officer involved in a shooting. We look at this one-sided as a punishment and it’s not that.”

Taylor said “real accountability” needs to be put in place.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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