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What Will Trump Mean For Chicago Policing Reform?

Chicago experts are split over what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for police reform in Chicago.

WBEZ’s Patrick Smith reports.

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FILE - Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot speaks on WBEZ's Morning Shift.

Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot speaks on WBEZ’s Morning Shift.

Jason Marck

Chicago experts are split over what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for police reform in Chicago.

The Department of Justice is currently investigating the Chicago Police Department. And Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot said it is possible that whoever Trump appoints as Attorney General could choose to move away from the kind of pattern-and-practice probes that have been a main focus of the Justice Department during President Barack Obama’s tenure.

In a written response to questions from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Trump campaign said “the federal government should ... not dictate to state and local law enforcement or interfere unless invited in by appropriate authorities or when verifiably improper behavior is clearly demonstrated.”

Still, Lightfoot said it’s too early to know what a Trump-led Justice Department will look like. And she’s not sure it will matter to Chicago.
“One thing I think is important to keep in mind is, the changes that need to be made within the police department, fundamentally, need to be made by people here on the ground in Chicago,” Lightfoot said.

Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer disagrees.

“The Emanuel administration can try and put through certain things...but at the end of the day, it’s going to be hard to implement the necessary changes around police reform without a federal judge, a federal consent decree and a monitor...being implemented by the federal government,” Cramer said.

Cramer said the frontline investigators and prosecutors don’t change when the president does. But a new attorney general will mean a new philosophy and new division leaders.

He thinks it’s more than likely that the new administration won’t be supportive of the kind of changes investigators are looking at for the Chicago Police Department.

That’s why he expects Justice Department investigators to hurry so they can release findings and recommendations before Trump takes office.

“At that that point the new administration is going to have … a pretty scathing report, and it’s going to be dumped in their lap. And it’s going to be pretty hard to ignore that no matter who the attorney general is,” Cramer said.

Cramer says if the Justice Department attorneys aren’t able to finish their work before January, the Trump-appointed attorney general may be able to put the report on the shelf.

“If they don’t put that out until the new administration takes over, that investigation, those findings, those recommendations may never see the light of day.”

Lightfoot agrees there is a chance that new leadership could mean the investigation goes nowhere, but she does not believe the investigators will rush to finish.

“Their work isn’t done yet,” Lightfoot said. “There is a deference to the incoming administration, and no big policy pronouncements, no big decisions … are taken.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicago will not embrace the policing recommendations of the president elect. Trump has in the past said Chicago should bring back so-called stop-and-frisk policing. Emanuel says that won’t happen.

“I don’t believe that his policy recommendations are the solution to our economic strength or more importantly on the particular,” Emanuel said.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.

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