Chicago Blows ¾ Of Police Reform Deadlines | WBEZ
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Chicago Blows ¾ Of Police Reform Deadlines

The City of Chicago is failing to meet most of the deadlines in a legally binding plan to reform it’s police department according to a report released Friday by the independent monitor overseeing the reforms.

Chicago police officials insist they are making progress, and the specific deadlines don’t reflect all of the work being done.

In the report—the first on the city’s progress since the agreement known as a consent decree was reached—the monitoring team acknowledged the city’s efforts and the challenges it faces, but did not excuse its failures.

“The consent decree itself contains some tensions. For example, there is—and likely will continue to be—a tension between the City’s need to make compliance efforts quickly and the need to ensure that its efforts are effective and sustainable,” the report reads. “Nonetheless, the city … agreed to specific deadlines to ensure that the city was making significant efforts to comply with the consent decree in a timely manner.”

Judge Robert Dow appointed Maggie Hickey as independent monitor on March 1, 2019, the day the consent decree took effect. Hickey, an attorney and former federal prosecutor, is in charge of a 30-person team tasked with making sure Chicago is complying with the sweeping reform plan.

Among the unsatisfied mandates outlined in Friday’s report is a requirement that the police department clearly communicate that officers will not be in danger of losing their gun permits if they seek mental health help except in extremely rare circumstances.

Chicago police officers are required to have valid gun permits and experts have said that confusion among officers about the potential of having their permits revoked prevents many from seeking counseling. The department was supposed to make it clear for cops that permits can only be taken away if a mental health professional has determined the permit-holder is a “clear and present danger” to themselves or others. The department has not yet clarified that for officers.

Chicago Police Chief of Organizational Development Barbara West said they are “in the process” of creating the training with the monitor’s guidance.

Over the last year at least eight officers have died by suicide.

In the monitoring report, the monitoring team said they have reviewed a training plan, but they are “concerned that the CPD and its city partners are not fully appreciating the urgency of meeting this requirement.”

According to the report, the city also failed to overhaul the policies and procedures for investigations into police shootings. The monitor writes that investigators from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability need to be alerted immediately of police shootings and given “immediate access” to the shooting scenes. The monitor noted several concerns about the current policies “regarding investigative notification, timely responses, scene control, and investigative access” for COPA investigators.

Despite the large number of unmet mandates, police officials in charge of CPD’s consent decree compliance said they’re proud of the work done in the first six months. And they point out that in many cases, even though they haven’t met what they called very ambitious requirements, they have submitted drafts for the monitor to review.

Christina Anderson, the police department’s director of reform management, said their progress has been slowed by a hands-on monitoring team that “wanted a lot more collaboration” than the city anticipated when the deadlines were created.

“I wouldn't say [the deadlines] were too ambitious. I would definitely say they were very ambitious. We all knew that when we negotiated them,” Anderson said. “I think we had a very important party that was not in that room, and that's the monitor.”

Anderson said the input from Hickey’s team has been “great,” but the “constant contact” with the monitor inherently makes things move more slowly.

While the department was working to meet the consent decree deadlines, they were also hiring staff and improving the department’s data collection and validation.

“We've had to accomplish simultaneously, the actual deliverables in the consent decree … But then below that we've had, you know, document and discovery requests [from the monitor],” Anderson said. “And then below that, we've had a layer of setting ourselves up for the long haul.”

Laughing, Anderson said the reform management team has “gotten very good at juggling.”

Anderson said the effort they are most proud of over the first six months is outreach to police officers.

Commander Daniel Godsel is in charge of officer outreach. He said he’s been going out and talking to officers about what the consent decree is, how it came to be and what changes are coming.

“And when I say go out, we’ve hit every district and every watch several times,” Godsel said.

And the response from rank-and-file officers has been mostly positive, he said.

“I believe that the department is ready for reform. And I believe that our rank and file officers are ready for it,” Godsel said.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.

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