Chicago, federal government draft police reform deal for Windy City

Posted at 9:12 PM, Jun 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-04 11:59:55-04

CHICAGO (AP) — The city of Chicago and the U.S. Justice Department have negotiated a draft agreement that calls for an independent monitor to oversee police department reforms, though it is unclear if there will be court oversight at some stage in the future, an official in the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday.

The appointment of a monitor would occur if the Justice Department gives final approval to the “memorandum of agreement,” which includes a framework for adopting and implementing reforms federal officials said were needed in the Chicago Police Department, according to a person in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration familiar with the agreement who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.

The Justice Department is currently giving a final review of the draft.

“We are hopeful that it will be executed soon and the process of selecting an independent monitor can begin shortly thereafter,” the source said in an email to The Associated Press. “Of all the reform actions we have taken, this is undoubtedly the most significant to date and it will guide future reforms for years to come.”

The Justice Department in January — just before Donald Trump’s inauguration as president — issued a scathing report on civil rights abuses by Chicago’s police department over the years. It found that institutional problems had led to serious civil rights violations, including a tendency to use excessive force. The investigation began in 2015 after the release of dashcam video showing a white officer shooting a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times.

The proposal suggests that the Trump administration has decided to take a different approach from that of President Barack Obama’s administration, which typically took a negotiated plan to a federal judge to make it legally binding in the form of a “consent decree.” Under Obama, it was the court that also appointed a monitor, answerable to the court, to ensure police complied with the agreed reforms.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed reservations about consent decrees, saying they can unfairly malign all officers for the actions of some bad-apple officers. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions questioned the use of consent decrees and the involvement of federal courts. He said one risk was that such legal actions can “undermine the respect for police officers.” Police unions — many of which endorse Trump during the presidential campaign — have shared those concerns.

Advocates of consent decrees say they are the best way ensure police departments enact reforms. A judge, independent of political appointees or a White House administration’s policy, can determine of departments aren’t complying and force them to comply via a court order.

Emanuel has said previously the city will embark on reforms of the police department whether or not the Justice Department enters into an agreement with his administration. “The mayor and the (police) superintendent have made it clear, repeatedly, that Chicago is committed to reform, not just for the short term, but for the long term,” the source said Friday.

The 161-page report on Chicago’s 12,000-officer police force concluded that it had been too quick to use excessive force and shoot at suspects even when they posed no threat. It also pointed to a “pervasive cover-up culture.” The document blamed bad training, describing one instance where an aspiring officer slept through an academy class on the proper use of force.

Up to now, there’s been virtually information on the negotiations between the city of Chicago and the Justice Department to hammer out a detailed reform plan. Under the Obama administration talks with far smaller cities than Chicago have taken more than six months. Many legal observers said negotiations with Chicago were likely to last at least that long.

A two-page joint statement released with the Chicago report, called an “Agreement in Principle,” signed by Emanuel and federal officials, committed the sides to extensive reforms under a future consent decree. It says that should include close judicial oversight and that a court-appointed monitor under a consent decree would ensure Chicago is meeting its reform commitments.