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A “step in the right direction” or “wholly unnecessary”? The Chicago Police Consent Decree is on its way, with controversial response.

By News

Illustration by Ishita Dharap.

A decree to reform the Chicago Police Department (CPD) was submitted to a federal judge on September 13. This is not the first time reform has been attempted in response to issues within CPD, but it is the first backed up by a federal court-ordered decree. The Illinois Attorney General (AG) is enthusiastic about this push for reform, but other community groups who have made similar calls for change are uneasy. Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Police sees the proposed decree as politically motivated and unnecessary.

The submission of the final draft comes in the same week as jury selection ended for a trial against Jason Van Dyke, a white CPD officer charged with murdering black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. The draft’s final point of contention was whether or not to require CPD officers to document every time they pointed their gun at someone. The AG’s office pushed for documentation while the city initially resisted, but both sides ultimately agreed to include it in the final draft.

The decree was formally proposed after a 2017 federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department led by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) after a video of Van Dyke shooting and killing McDonald was widely circulated. This, along with many other cases of police brutality, spurred public demonstrations demanding for reform and accountability within the CPD and police throughout the country.

Through its investigation, the DOJ confirmed numerous cases of officer misconduct and excessive use of force in the CPD, in addition to inadequate training, supervision, and investigation into cases of this abuse. While the DOJ recommended a consent decree be drafted in response to its findings on CPD, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not pursue one. This led to the Illinois AG filing a lawsuit against the City of Chicago demanding a consent decree be formed.

The final draft of the Chicago Police Consent Decree calls for a massive reformation of the Chicago Police Department and a unifying effort to strengthen the relationship between CPD officers and Chicago residents. The document promotes the use of crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques that don’t require the use of force, adequate wellness resources for officers, higher accountability and efficient investigation into officer misconduct, and many other related changes.

The Mayor’s Press Office says that the decree is “an important next step, but not our final step, on the road to reform.” It adds that “this agreement will help ensure Chicago police officers have the training, resources and support they need to do their difficult jobs.”

The Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago’s largest police union, does not feel as hopeful. Kevin Graham, president of the FOP, complained to CNN in July that the Attorney General refused to negotiate with them. He goes on to say that the decree is “wholly unnecessary” and “politically motivated.” Within the same week Graham told the Chicago Tribune that the FOP will “continue to fight the consent decree.”

If the decree is approved by a judge, its progress will be supervised by an “independent monitor,” to be appointed. This consists of a team of individuals who will oversee the implementation of these reforms until CPD and the city of Chicago “achieve full and effective compliance,” as the Attorney General said.

The Attorney General is not the only person to have filed a lawsuit. Several community groups and activist organizations including Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) collectively sued the city in 2017 demanding police reform. Once negotiations began on a formal consent decree with the Attorney General, these groups agreed to suspend their lawsuits until a final decree is implemented. At that point, they can renew their lawsuits if they think the city and CPD are not committing to the decree’s reform demands.

“A significant number of people have identified issues and raised them,” Ed Yohnka, the director of communications and public policy at the ACLU of Illinois, told F Newsmagazine. Now, he says, the key will be to enforce change “at a pace that actually resolves these historic issues.”

Past attempts at reforming the CPD failed, but Yohnka told F that the ACLU remains “cautiously hopeful” about this decree.

“If you look at all the cities that have experienced major changes in its policing, virtually all of them have involved a consent decree,” he says, adding that “what you can’t do is … give up on the process just simply because it hasn’t worked before.”

Other local activist groups have stronger doubts. Ted Pearson, Co-Chairperson of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, finds the drafted decree limited and overall “not a solution” to the history of police violence in Chicago. He goes on to tell F that “the only adequate mechanism would be community control of the police,” which was not proposed in the drafted decree.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. will hold a fairness hearing for the decree on October 24 and 25.

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