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Chicago Police Union Contract Under Fire After Justice Dept. Report On Abuse

The U.S. Department of Justice’s blistering report on the Chicago Police Department’s unconstitutional practices has ramped up calls for changes to the police union’s contract, which federal investigators blamed for hampering misconduct investigations and preventing some officers from being disciplined. 

The contract is set to expire June 30, and some aldermen said the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, which represents about 10,000 officers, needs to be open to a number of changes to address problems outlined by federal investigators. 

“People have been saying the police have been systematically abusive of people’s Constitutional rights, and this validates some of those concerns,” said Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward. 

The Justice Department on Friday unveiled its long-awaited report into the police department and found officers used “unreasonable” deadly force against suspects who presented no immediate threat. It stated the department did not properly train officers, and the process for disciplining officers is “haphazard, unpredictable and does not deter misconduct.”

The report also took aim at the FOP’s contract. The Justice Department concluded that the contract is partly to blame for a majority of police misconduct cases not being fully investigated. Of the 30,000 complaints made against officers during the last five years, 98 percent of cases resulted in no discipline, according to the report. 

Federal investigators said the FOP’s contract added “obstacles” to disciplining officers in some misconduct cases. The contract currently allows officers to correct statements in misconduct investigations if they are contradicted by video evidence. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and the city’s Law Department held private briefings with aldermen Friday, where questions were raised about the FOP’s contract, said Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th Ward, who serves as Emanuel’s floor leader on the City Council. 

“The negotiators for the city have an idea of where there are things in the contract that present challenges for us to do certain things,” O’Connor said. 

The alderman said some issues can only be resolved by negotiating with the FOP, but he added that the city can implement a “tremendous” amount of reforms without going to the bargaining table. 

During the private briefings with aldermen, the Emanuel administration outlined a number of changes that can be made without violating the union’s contract, such as overhauling how police are trained and changes to how supervisors are assigned, O’Connor said. 

“It would be silly to look at this report and think, ‘Oh we can’t accomplish what we need to accomplish because we have a contract in place.’ We can accomplish a great deal without even thinking about the contract,” O’Connor said. 

Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, said he and his colleagues in the council’s Progressive Caucus have been digging through the FOP contract and comparing it to police contracts from other cities. 

“We’re going to offer recommendations to the (Emanuel) administration once we go through the DOJ report and compare those,” Waguespack said. 

Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins said the mayor is open to hearing any recommendations from the caucus. 

FOP President Dean Angelo could not be immediately reached for comment on the union’s contract, but he criticized the report. 

“How many more kicks to the shin -- or other places -- can these officers expect? This is the same type of rhetoric that has been around for the last couple of years with law enforcement,” Angelo said. “This is another blow to morale for the Chicago Police Department.”

Lori Lightfoot, head of the Chicago Police Board, was critical of the FOP at a Friday afternoon press conference.

“I’ve seen no evidence the FOP is willing to work with anybody, which is really unfortunate,” she said. “And I frankly think it does a terrible, terrible disservice to its members.”

While Waguespack said he will press for changes in the FOP contract, he said he is aware the union has federally mandated rights. 

“A lot of people are like, ‘Just hack up the contract and start from scratch,’” he said. “But they have protections. We’re going to have to look closely at what we can change, and things that we do change will cost a lot of money to the city.” 

Hunter Clauss is a digital editor for WBEZ. You can follow him at @whuntah

Michael Lansu is also a digital editor for WBEZ. You can follow him at @mikelansu

WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell contributed to this report. You can follow him at @ChipMitchell1

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