By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Proposed changes in Chicago Police Department policy and bad behavior of officers took a hit this week after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of all reforms put in place by the Obama administration.
A week before he left office, Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch came to Chicago to announce the findings of a 15-month investigation into CPD’s practices. Lynch said CPD had a culture of outdated police practices and routinely violated the rights of citizens, especially Black Americans. The city accepted the findings and both Mayor Emanuel and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson vowed commitment to change the department.
But given the history between CPD and the Black community, many in the community want a consent decree, which would mean federal monitoring of CPD to ensure changes are actually being made.
Those in favor of the decree are not as optimistic now that Sessions ordered his review. In his memo to law enforcement agencies around the country, Sessions stated the following: “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement agencies and officers perform in keeping American communities safe,” read part of the two-page document dated March 31. “The Deputy Attorney General and Associate Attorney General are hereby directed to immediately review all Department activities including …existing or contemplated consent decrees.”
WVON 1690 AM afternoon talk show host Cliff Kelly has been pushing for a consent decree since the Department of Justice findings were released in January. Kelly said without the consent decree, you are basically trusting the city to implement the changes and for the police department to police itself. “We’ve seen the results of when that occurs and it is never good for Black people,” Kelly said. “The consent decree is the only way we can guarantee the changes that have been promised, will be made good on.”
To their credit both Emanuel and Johnson said they are moving forward with the changes with or without the support of the federal government. Johnson recently outlined many of the changes that have already occurred, including stepping up the pace in getting all officers body cameras by the end of 2017.
The DOJ investigation that found Chicago police routinely shot at fleeing suspects who were no immediate threat; failed to address racially discriminatory behavior within the department and even in several incidents put their own officers at risk. It also cited the Department’s lack of training or outdated techniques as contributing to the problem.
However President Trump’s administration has been cozy with the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents Chicago Police officers, which has been resistant to change. Last week FOP leader Dean Angelo was at the White House meeting with President Trump. Angelo has stated that CPD is under attack and it is destroying the morale of the officers.
Sessions, during a speech to State Attorneys General in February, criticized the DOJ report on CPD. He said it was scientifically flawed. It was the first signal that there would be no federal oversight of CPD. With the consent decree, the courts would watch over the reforms and a federal monitor would be brought in to make sure changes were being made. But Sessions’ remarks in February could mean no changes are coming to a Black community tired of being the victims of police misconduct.
“Unfortunately in recent years, law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors,” Sessions said. “Our officers, deputies and troopers believe the political leadership of this country abandoned them. Their morale has suffered. And last year, amid this intense public scrutiny and criticism, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty increased 10 percent over the year before.”
Chicagoan Ronald Ashley said he was not surprised with Sessions’ statement or that the implementation of changes in CPD will have to be taken on good faith. He said while he was an Obama supporter, he thinks the first African American President of the United States took too long to address police misconduct in his adopted hometown.
“Obama knew about the police misconduct issues before he even went to the White House,” Ashley said. “When he was working here as a State Senator he addressed the issue. Why he didn’t order the Justice Department to review CPD in his first term or early in his second is a question that bothers me. That way they could have implemented the changes and we wouldn’t have to worry about someone else coming in, basically tearing it up.”