Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. approved a consent decree Thursday that will dictate the direction of police reform in Chicago, likely for decades to come. In his 16-page order, the federal district judge who will oversee the consent decree acknowledged “it is not a panacea, nor is it a magic wand.” But he also expressed hope that “the conditions and incentives may be in place to start making progress right away.”
In a fairly brief, but comprehensive section, Judge Dow dispensed with the biggest barrier to the consent decree: opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents rank-and-file officers. Although he had already denied the union’s motion to intervene—as had the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals—Judge Dow revisited and rebutted the union’s argument that the consent decree would interfere with their collective bargaining rights.
Noting that some people have criticized the high price tag of monitoring this consent decree, $2.85 million per year, the judge did some eye-popping math: “Had a monitoring team been billing the City at the rate of $2.85 million per year since 1790, when Jean Baptiste Point du Sable first set up camp at the mouth of the Chicago River, the total bill of $652.65 million would not equal the City’s litigation-related payouts in civil rights actions since 2004.”
Lest anyone think the consent decree means Chicago will stop paying out tens of millions of dollars per year for police misconduct, though, Judge Dow also cited a study with the somewhat disappointing finding that consent decrees “may contribute to a modest reduction” in civil rights lawsuits.
Even so, this is a crucial step forward—though far from the end—of this latest round of police reform, which began with the release of the Laquan McDonald video more than three years ago.
Judge Dow ended his historic order with three simple words: Let us begin.
You can read the entire order and the full consent decree below.
Read the full final consent decree below. This post has been updated since publishing.