For real reform, Chicago’s next mayor must commit to fixing police union contracts

True accountability requires amending the Fraternal Order of Police contract that shields and encourages misconduct.

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Photo by Grace Donnelly

Chicagoans deserve a mayor with a deep understanding of public safety and a dedication to serving the community. We deserve someone who understands that what makes us safe is access to quality public education, living wage jobs, and other social supports that address basic human rights.

We also deserve someone who understands that continuing to support the corruption in the Chicago Police Department, an institution that is internationally infamous due to corruption and abuse, will not make our city any safer. With police scandal following the outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicagoans will have the opportunity on Feb. 26 to elect a new mayor who makes police reform and accountability their priority.

It is vital that this new leader have the courage and audacity to take on corruption in the police department, because for many Black and Brown Chicagoans, the abuses of the Chicago Police Department are a matter of life and death. Reforming the police is not a matter of simply providing them with more training. You cannot train away the racism, ableism, classism, or any other “isms” that have infected the Chicago Police Department.

A consent decree is a great first step towards reform, but no part of that decree transforms the deeply rooted biases and barriers to justice that are inscribed within the Chicago police union contracts. Chicagoans need a mayor who understands that in order to have authentic and transformational police reform, they must address the provisions in the police union contracts that encourage and allow officers to deceive and terrorize the public they are tasked with protecting.

The Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability has been organizing across Chicago to educate communities about how the police contracts impact their freedom as private citizens. In those conversations, CPCA realized that most people were unaware that police misconduct is practically codified into the contract.

Under the current police contract, when officers are involved in a shooting, they are allowed to wait 24 hours before issuing any statement, they can change their stories when under investigation, and misconduct investigators are not allowed to use the same interrogation tactics on the police as the police use on the general public.

The public is not protected through any police accountability measure: the contracts prohibit the investigation of anonymous complaints, we cannot access past disciplinary records for police who are currently under investigation, and we cannot even find out the identities of officers who are subject to civilian complaints.

In fact, the current contract requires the destruction of police misconduct records after five years. CPCA has developed 14 recommendations that, if adopted, would significantly impact police accountability and make it easier to investigate police misconduct. These common-sense recommendations would help align the rights of a police officer with the rights offered to the general public when they interact with police, but many mayoral candidates refuse to support these recommendations.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Chicago Women Take Action, and Southsiders Organizing for Unity and Liberation, as well as Community Renewal Society — of which the Chicago Reporter is an editorially independent program — all distributed surveys or hosted candidate forums with pointed questions about police contract accountability.

While all responding candidates supported broad police reform at the Chicago Women Take Action Alliance forum, only Gery Chico, Amara Enyia, LaShawn Ford, Lori Lightfoot, and Toni Preckwinkle marked “yes” when specifically asked if they support the 14 recommendations as proposed by CPCA in response to the ACLU’s candidate questionnaire.

At the CRS forum, Susana Mendoza joined the “yes” chorus of police contract reform, along with Willie Wilson. It is not surprising that there are mayoral candidates who are not supportive of police contract reform. At the CRS forum, Bob Fioretti, John Kozlar, Garry McCarthy and Paul Vallas all indicated that they would not work to ensure that the police union would not stand in the way of police accountability. Bill Daley did not respond to any of the questionnaires or forums related to police contract accountability, and he has hardly spoken publicly about police reform at all.

This is disappointing given the support Daley has from a former Black Panther, Rep. Bobby Rush, who himself was the subject of a police manhunt following the assassination of Fred Hampton during the tenure of Mayor Richard J. Daley. While McCarthy, Vallas, Kozlar and Fioretti all said “yes” to generally working with the community to reform police contracts at the SOUL candidate’s forum, it is important to note that they did not support the community’s more specific demands for the CPCA recommendations.

The community is ahead of these candidates on police reform, and it’s time for the candidates to catch up. As police misconduct cases continue to mount, and as we close in on election day, all mayoral candidates need to get specific about how they will reform the police department. If the candidates are serious about working with the community to address police reform, they need to understand that the community is serious about what we want to see that reform look like.

The community is clear that they want civilian accountability. We are clear that the police contract is a significant barrier to any reform measure. The 14 recommendations, if adopted, would help make Chicago safer. Amara Enyia, LaShawn Ford, Gery Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, and Toni Preckwinkle are on-record with their support for police contract accountability. The rest of the candidates are on-record for their lack of support.

On election day, Chicagoans will wield the power of the vote to elect a new Mayor. We deserve to be safe from the police, and the next mayor of Chicago must work to address the provisions in the police contract that open the door for police misconduct so that all Chicagoans can live without fear of the police.