By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Calling for a new and improved police department that can face the challenges of policing in 2017, Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent Eddie Johnson presided over one of the largest police graduations and promotion ceremonies in recent history. Usually held at Navy Pier, Tuesday morning’s ceremonies had to be moved to Arie Crown Theater to accommodate the large crowd.
The ceremony took place a day after Supt. Johnson rolled out a number of reform initiatives for the department. Many of the changes have already started taking place, according to Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Police Board Chairperson. Community policing, enhanced training, clearer use of force policies, along with increased supervision of officers are all changes Johnson is touting.
“This isn’t everything. It’s not the specifics of the project plan,” Lightfoot said. “But if these specific reforms are implemented in 2017, I feel confident that they will create a foundation on which the department can continue to build.”
Lightfoot said the success of the 19-page report on the changes, which was released to the public on March 14, will depend on both officers and the public “buying-in” on the changes. She said it is a blueprint of the reforms that will take place this year and give the department something to build upon in the future.
“The primary performance evaluation we will focus on is increasing the relationship, and bettering the relationship between the police and the community,” she said. “Putting it all in a document for everyone to read means that both the officers and public know we are taking this seriously.”
Superintendent Johnson said all of the policy changes will take effect when the entire 12,000 rank and file members of CPD receive the training. He also said he is not waiting for a court consent decree to come. There has been much debate with the changes at the U.S. Justice Department as to whether or not the scathing report about CPD that came under the Loretta Lynch administration will be followed up on by current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has already publicly stated he did not like how the investigation took place under Lynch.
But Johnson said he is moving forward with or without Washington’s backing. He said it is time to look forward and not backwards or maintain the status-quo.
“If you don’t have the community on your side as a partner, you’re not going to be effective in fighting crime,” Johnson said.
Mayor Emanuel thanked the graduates for answering the call to serve the city as police officers. He acknowledged the department is going through a period of change. But he told the graduates it is a good thing and they should feel fortunate to be coming in on the ground floor of that change and are not victims to bad habits, ideas of policing philosophies that has landed the city in trouble.
Johnson said despite the public troubles the department is facing, he believes there is still a lot of interest in becoming a Chicago cop.
“Two things really get a police chief excited are a reduction in violent crime, and a large promotion/graduation class,” Johnson said.
In many ways he charged the new officers and those who have been with the department for years to not forget the public relations aspect of the job. He said in order to regain trust in many communities, officers need to be seen as part of the community and still the “good guys.” He said that all starts with how officers in uniform conduct themselves and communicate with members of the public.
“Every time you interact with someone in your day-to-day duties as an officer, I want you to think about how you would want a police officer to treat a friend or a loved one. My guess is that you’d want that interaction to be professional and courteous,” Johnson said.
But with that said, the CPD is still struggling to recruit from the African American community and promote Blacks to positions of leadership within the department. Of the 131 new detectives, less than 20 were Black. Critics say that is a dismal number and it only makes crimes in the Black community harder to solve, because many African Americans feel more comfortable speaking with a Black detective. Even the F.B.I. in a Crusader article published last month acknowledged that law enforcement around the country must do a better job of recruiting Blacks into the fold, including the F.B.I. itself.
Johnson could be receiving some good news later this week as the Illinois Senate is expected to announce the future introduction of a bill that would give harsher penalties for repeat gun offenders. It’s something Chicago political leaders and police have been begging for since the early 2000’s.
The new detectives at the graduation ceremony have been working in their districts already for the past two weeks as Chicago attempts to increase its bad record for solving murders. According to the department, less than 40 percent of Chicago’s homicides have been solved.