Mimesis Law
23 October 2019

Chicago’s Homeopathic Police Reform. And More Funding!

Apr. 15, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked police reform committee, the Police Accountability Task Force, released its final report on the state of Chicago policing on April 13. Emanuel formed the PATF due to political upheaval surrounding the November, 2015 release of the video of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, at the hands of white Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. Weighing in at a cool 190 pages, the report was described as an “unsparing” condemnation of the CPD’s approach to law enforcement and its “broken” system for holding bad cops accountable.

The report identifies three key CPD failings: endemic racism, together with what it describes as an “end-justifies-the-means” mentality, lack of meaningful accountability, and what it calls an “underinvestment in human capital” – that is, not enough training or funding. It goes on to propose a number of fixes.

All in all, at first glance, the report’s not very flattering to the police. Whether it accurately describes the causes of the dysfunction or has substantive ideas for reform is another matter. Let’s take a closer look at the CPD’s shortcomings.

First, there’s racism. Chicago’s population is fairly evenly split between blacks, whites and Hispanics.  However, according to the report, about 75% of all police shootings and tasings involved black victims. Likewise, close to half (46%) of traffic stops and three-quarters (72%) of pedestrian stops not leading to an arrest were of blacks. What about stops leading to an arrest? Or frisks?

Historically, the CPD declined to collect data on either. In lieu of litigation, the City of Chicago reached an agreement with the ACLU of Illinois in August, 2015 to keep detailed records on all stops and frisks. (It’s a lot like Philly’s.) Unfortunately, the CPD hasn’t held up its end of the deal.

The PATF devotes half of page 44 to its proposed solution, which boils down to “the CPD should comply with the agreement.” Groundbreaking stuff. Unfortunately, the PATF doesn’t describe how compliance will be enforced, though it does advocate the creation of an “Inspector General for Public Safety,” whose job it will be to “examine and make recommendations regarding the full scope of police department-related activity.” The report also makes clear that the Inspector General must receive generous funding.

Speaking of accountability, the report criticizes Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority in particularly harsh terms, describing it as “badly broken,” incompetent and biased. It recommends the abolition of the IPRA, to be replaced with a “new, fully transparent and accountable” institution, the Civilian Police Investigative Agency.

Apart from the committee’s love of polysyllables, one of the strangest things about this proposal is that the PATF is chaired by Lori Lightfoot, who headed up the IPRA from 2002-2005 back when it was called the Office of Professional Standards. OPS was renamed to IPRA in 2007, as part of an image overhaul in the wake of several CPD/OPS scandals.

Training is a staple of every promise of reform. It is, however, odd that the PATF emphasizes the need for extra funding for a Taser training facility, given that it also describes cops whiling away their current training on their smartphones or taking naps. Maybe one should be conditioned on fixing the other.

The part of the report least rapturously received by police are proposed changes to the police union’s collective bargaining agreement, Chicago’s version of a LEOBOR. Chicago police currently get a grace period of a day between being involved in a shooting and having to give a statement. They may also make a statement, look at recordings of the shooting, then change their stories. The PATF proposes doing away with this, among other changes.

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