Police consent decree report raises ‘alarm signals’ for next superintendent

The independent monitor’s first report finds that the Chicago Police Department is behind in implementing required reforms on use of force, accountability and community engagement.

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Photo by Grace Donnelly

As Chicago begins a search for a new police superintendent, the recent report by the independent monitor on reform efforts under the consent decree between the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois attorney general offers some insights into the huge job awaiting the new boss.

Amid city budget hearings and holidays, the Nov. 15 report — which found that CPD had met just 13 of 50 deadlines in the consent decree — received minimal attention. The report addressed a limited number of topics in the consent decree, concluding that CPD was in compliance on 52 benchmarks and not in compliance on 15.

“Let’s take that as a series of alarm signals,” commented 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin. “But we have to start meeting more deadlines.”

Martin is a member of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, and before running for alderman this year, worked on the consent decree as a staff attorney in the Illinois attorney general’s office.

The monitor found that CPD was out of compliance on a number of deadlines regarding use of force issues, but on several missed deadlines, policies now in development would bring the department into compliance, according to the report. 

Tracking use of force 

On reporting and tracking foot pursuits, CPD has made progress, although required data was submitted after the deadline, according to the report. But a draft training bulletin on foot pursuits fails to incorporate best practices or to sufficiently warn officers about the risks involved in that tactic, the monitor said.

One-third of police shootings from 2010 to 2015 involved foot pursuits, with about a quarter of victims shot in the back, according to a 2016 Chicago Tribune investigation.

The issue of reporting incidents where officers point weapons at people was controversial in final negotiations over the consent decree, and the monitor reports that a draft policy ­–— submitted after the court-ordered deadline — would bring CPD into compliance. Officers will be required to report such incidents to dispatchers, and a system for tracking those reports is being put in place.

The monitor pointed out that the department’s new Force Review Unit, which reviews documentation of use-of-force incidents, is “currently not sufficiently staffed to adequately perform its duties” and that hiring plans are insufficient given the existing backlog. In addition, the unit will now be charged with tracking gun-pointing incidents. 

In comments on the monitor’s report, the attorney general’s office said the unit is “operating at less than 50% capacity” and lacks proper technology and adequate work space.

According to the monitor, CPD “does not currently have the data resources and systems” necessary to meet the consent decree’s requirement – which had a March 1 deadline – that it collect and maintain all documentation on use-of-force incidents. 

Investigating misconduct 

On accountability measures, the department is lagging significantly, according to the monitor’s report. This includes protections for officers who report potential misconduct and a clear protocol for investigating officer-involved shootings – allowing investigators from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability access to shooting scenes, and ensuring that officer witnesses don’t discuss cases before interviews with investigators, among other things.

Also missing were sufficient steps to make filing a complaint accessible for the public and clear guidance for department investigators regarding when cases can be pursued without a signed affidavit. 

Martin highlighted the lack of protocol for how the Bureau of Internal Affairs handles investigations. The BIA investigates allegations of criminal misconduct and operational violations, among other kinds of complaints. He also noted deficiencies in initial training for BIA investigators reported by the monitor.

The alderman also noted the department’s failure to develop training materials and procedures for field training officers and the department’s failure to track issues of misconduct that come up in criminal and civil court proceedings.

The community’s role 

Along with attorneys for civil rights groups that are party to the consent decree, Martin underscored the monitor’s strong and repeated language criticizing CPD’s approach to community engagement, in which public input is sought only after draft policies are posted. 

“Allowing community input at the later stages of the policy development process effectively disenfranchises Chicago community members and prevents them from providing input and comments in the formative stages of the policy development process,” according to the monitor’s report.

The monitoring team is working with CPD to improve its community engagement process, according to the report.

One key element still missing from the recommendations of the Police Accountability Task Force — chaired by now-Mayor Lori Lightfoot and issued in April 2016 — is a community oversight board. The monitor reports that the city is negotiating with the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability over an ordinance to set up such a body. Lightfoot has said the administration is still working through the “election component” of an oversight body; Martin argued plans for the new board need to be in place so candidates for superintendent know what they’re coming into. 

And given shortcomings in CPD’s policy development process noted by the monitor, Martin said, “My hope is that entity will have final decision-making power” over major department policies.

Interim Supt. Charlie Beck said it’s normal for reform efforts to start slowly and that the pace of change should start picking up. Let’s hope he’s right, for the sake of his replacement – and of everyone in Chicago.