Even though Chicago Police Supt. David Brown says he’s committed to reforming the department, the changes are continuing to come slowly — with the city missing about 40% of last year’s deadlines under a federal consent decree, according to a watchdog report released Wednesday.
The 2019 consent decree — a sweeping court order requiring reforms to discipline, supervision, training and recruiting — stems from a 2017 lawsuit by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
Raoul was concerned about cops engaging in civil-rights abuses — highlighted by the 2015 release of a video of a Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times. Officer Jason Van Dyke went to prison for the killing.
Now, the department faces scrutiny over the more than 500 citizen complaints filed against police during the protests and rioting that gripped the city last summer.
“CPD’s response to the protests over George Floyd’s death also epitomized entrenched problems in its practices and culture,” Raoul wrote in a response to the latest of three watchdog reports on the consent decree since 2019.
“Whether through visibly refusing to comply with health precautions like wearing masks, obscuring badge numbers and nameplates, or using excessive force, a significant number of CPD officers (though not all) took actions that were openly hostile to the culture of accountability required by the consent decree,” Raoul said.
Maggie Hickey, the independent monitor of the consent decree, said its purpose is to ensure cops have the “training, resources and support they need to perform their jobs professionally and safely.” She noted last year’s deadlines were extended by more than two months because of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order in the spring.
Hickey said her team spent thousands of hours monitoring the city’s compliance with the decree and found the police department failed to comply — even on a preliminary basis — with 120 of 315 requirements. Also, only 17 of the 43 agreed-upon deadlines last year were met, she said.
“In sum, the city and the CPD did not meet most of the deadlines and compliance obligations in the third reporting period,” the report said.
Hickey’s report noted that three superintendents, including Brown, have been in office in the years since the consent decree was approved. The changes in administrations can “create logistical and cultural challenges that can slow reform,” she said.
She also pointed to two new citywide units of officers, the Critical Response Team and the Community Safety Team, saying, “We continue to have concerns regarding the challenges that these types of teams present and Chicago’s history with roving teams.” Corruption was rampant, for example, in the now-disbanded Special Operations Section, in which officers were convicted of ripping off drug dealers.
On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried to get out ahead of the latest critical report card from the independent monitor by issuing a joint statement with Brown that claimed a “threefold increase” in compliance during the most recent reporting period.
She also accentuated the positive Wednesday after a ceremony opening a new firehouse at 1024 W. 119th St., the largest in Chicago history, which will serve as the new headquarters for Engine Co. 115.
“What the report reflects is that, even through a pandemic, the police department made up a lot of unfinished business from the previous two reports and then, really focused like a laser beam in making sure they got a lot of things right, a higher percentage of meeting deadlines, but importantly, making real, substantive progress,” she said.
“I’m not going to be satisfied until we believe that we have reached the end of a long journey, and we’re not there yet. But I’m very happy with the progress the department has made. I know that there’s a seriousness and a commitment that maybe hadn’t been there in the same way before.”
The city has at least five years from the beginning of the consent decree to comply with it. But it could take longer than that based on the experiences of other cities like Los Angeles, New Orleans and Seattle, the mayor said.
Lightfoot rejected a claim from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois that the police department has made insufficient and late progress toward “community engagement.” There are always “new people that you need to reach,” she said, adding that Brown made a “significant commitment around community engagement” that represents a “sea change in the mindset” of the police brass.
Brown mandated that “every front-facing department member and unit engage in some kind of act of community engagement or service every week,” Lightfoot said. That includes tactical officers and members of specialized units like the Community Safety Team.
To underscore the “sea change,” Lightfoot said cops are now coming up with their own projects to help serve children and seniors in Chicago neighborhoods. “Where there may have been reluctance early on, now there’s enthusiasm on the part of members of this department. And that is a big sea change,” she said.
Raoul previously told the Sun-Times that it’s like “pulling teeth to get compliance with just producing documents.” In his response to the latest report, he said a lot of the police department’s commitments to transparency and accountability haven’t been implemented. He also complained about the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s failure to comply with court-ordered mandates.
Lightfoot responded by pointing fingers.
“With due respect to the attorney general, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done also at the state level. And it would be good if they also focus on making sure that their house was clean,” she said.
Also Wednesday, the Chicago Police Department was the focus of a separate critical report by city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who said police have made “minimal progress” in developing a new gang intelligence system after the older version was blasted for “widespread data quality issues.”