CHICAGO – A federal judge on Thursday approved an agreement between the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago that will require the Chicago Police Department to undertake dozens of reforms.
The sides negotiated the consent decree after the state’s attorney general sued the police department in federal court. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who left office this month, alleged that the 13,000-officer department had a troubling record of civil rights violations and said it needed an outside monitor to oversee reforms.
The deal requires the department to publish use-of-force data monthly and tighten policy on when Tasers may be used. It requires officers to document each time they draw their weapons, changes they rules by which officers are investigated, and requires the city to bolster wellness and counseling programs for officers.
Judge Robert Dow wrote that the decree “is not a panacea, nor is it a magic wand.” But he expressed optimism in his 16-page order that it could be a useful tool for a city that’s police department has been beset by allegations of mistreatment and brutality against its black and Hispanic communities.
The sides negotiated the deal, Dow wrote, with the goal of solving problems “in a manner that defuses tension, respects differences of opinion, and over time produces a ‘lawful, fair, reasonable, and adequate’ result for everyone involved.”
“Let us begin,” he wrote.
The decree mandates dozens of policy changes. It will go into effect when Dow appoints an independent monitor to oversee it. He said he expects the selection process to be complete by March 1.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in a joint statement called it a “historic day” for the city. The city has made at least seven separate attempts in the last century at implementing large-scale reform in the department.
“This agreement builds on the strength of the reforms underway at the Chicago Police Department today, ensures there are no U-turns on that road to reform, and will help secure a safer and stronger future for our city,” Emanuel and Johnson said.
Relations between police and the city’s sizeable African-American population have long been strained.
The department has spent more than $700 million since 2010 on settlements and legal fees related to lawsuits alleging police brutality.
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The Justice Department launched an investigation of the department in 2015 after police dashcam video showed a white officer shooting a black teen as the teen appeared to be turning away from police.
Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery – one for each shot he fired – in the 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke was sentenced the month to almost seven years in prison.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx called the consent decree an important step in acknowledging past abuses by law enforcement.
“Generations of fear and distrust don’t go away because there is a consent decree,” Foxx said. “Repairing that fractured relationship goes beyond today’s actions.”
“This is not the end of the road, a but mere checkpoint on the journey to reform”
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department opened investigations into more than two dozen police departments and secured court-enforceable agreements to secure reforms in more than a dozen.
In the final days of the Obama administration,then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch reported that the Chicago Police Department was beset by “deficit in trust and accountability.”
But under President Trump, the Justice Department has opposed such decrees. Jeff Sessions, who served as attorney general until November, said repeatedly it was not the responsibility of the federal government to manage local law enforcement.
In the face of resistance from the Trump administration, Madigan sued the city department.
Sessions was sharply critical of the state attorney general’s effort. He flew to Chicago in October to deliver a speech in which he called such an agreement a “colossal mistake” and urged Dow to reject it.
“The bravery of the Chicago Police Department is not in question,” Sessions said. “Their love for the city is not in question.
“What is in question, however, is the support and political courage of the elected officials.”
Dow held a two-day hearing last year to get input from the community about the decree.
Some civil rights activists told him they thought it was not strong enough. The police union complained about some of the monitoring provisions.
“The Court is under no illusion that this will be an easy process,” Dow wrote in his order. “It took a long time to get to this place, and it may take a long time to get out of it. With that said, there are good reasons to think that the conditions and incentives may be in place to start making progress right away.”