Federal Court Monitor: We Have ‘Significant Concerns’ About Commitment of Chicago Police to Reform

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

The team overseeing court-ordered reforms of the Chicago Police Department warned city officials Thursday in its semiannual report that the team has “significant concerns” about the department’s commitment to constitutional policing.

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The seventh semiannual report from the team led by attorney Maggie Hickey urges police brass and city leaders to “urgently address” staffing shortages, a lack of supervision for officers and poor data collection, analysis and management.

“While the CPD has developed some plans to approach consent decree reforms, much more needs to be done to comprehensively demonstrate compliance efforts with officer wellness, community policing, impartial policing, community engagement and crime-fighting strategies,” according to the report.  “And we continue to have significant concerns regarding the CPD’s commitment to have constitutional policing and reform efforts lead its crime-fighting strategies.”

The city is in full compliance with approximately 5% of the 4-year-old court order, known as a consent decree, according to the report detailing the Police Department’s efforts to comply with the consent decree between July 1, 2022, and Dec. 31, 2022. That represents a slight increase from the previous six-month period.

“Understandably, feedback has continued to reflect that reforms are not being felt by the community,” the report said. It notes that a survey conducted by the team in 2022 shows Chicagoans have a more critical view of the Police Department than a similar survey found in 2020.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department did not respond to questions from WTTW News about the criticism leveled by the monitoring team at the department’s commitment to reform. Instead, the department released a statement from Interim Police Supt. Fred Waller that celebrated the progress made by the department in the last six months.

“Though a lot of work has been put in, there is more to do as we continue working to achieve full compliance and fulfill our consent decree obligations,” Waller said.

The department is in preliminary compliance with approximately 60% of the consent decree’s requirements and secondary compliance with another 23% of the requirements, according to the semiannual report.

However, that data does not reflect the recent agreement between the city, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to expand the consent decree to include pedestrian and traffic stops by officers as well as loitering arrests.

“We urge the city to immediately make short- and long-term efforts to ensure required reforms become daily practices,” Hickey said in a statement. “The city’s new administration and incoming superintendent must meet this moment.”

Even the limited progress the city has made is threatened by the staffing challenges facing the department, according to the semiannual report.

For example, the unit charged with reviewing officers’ use of force, foot pursuits and investigatory stops is not adequately staffed, resulting in a large backlog, the report said.

To address those challenges, the monitoring team urges city leaders to implement a “comprehensive staffing study, an efficient reporting and data system and a consistent community policing strategy,” according to the report.

That amounts to a to-do list for the city’s next top cop, who could take over the beleaguered department before Labor Day.

“The imminent announcement of a new superintendent makes this an opportune time for a renewed focus on the consent decree,” Hickey said. “The new leader must urgently address the problems that have lingered far too long.”

The department’s reform efforts have also been complicated by significant turnover in the department’s top ranks.

The top job in the department’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform is now vacant, leaving no one in charge of the department’s reform efforts.

Former Executive Director Tina Skahill resigned on June 17 after than less than a year in the post. When she informed department leaders of her retirement, Skahill told them she was stepping down because of retaliation and invoked protections under the state’s whistleblower law.

Skahill replaced Bob Boik, who was fired by former Chicago Police Supt. David Brown in August, days after Boik warned that Brown’s decision to move 46 employees to patrol shifts would violate the consent decree.

The original terms of the consent decree called for its reforms to be completed by 2024. In March, city officials and police brass acknowledged they would not meet that deadline and agreed to extend the deadline for the reforms to be fully implemented by an additional three years.

During his victorious campaign for mayor, Brandon Johnson vowed to “immediately enact” the consent decree by earmarking an additional $50 million to meet its requirements and hammered former Mayor Lori Lightfoot for missing “every meaningful deadline.”

The consent decree was issued after a 2017 federal investigation found officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans. That probe was triggered by the outrage over the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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