Updated 4:45 pm
Chicago’s Inspector General is criticizing the police department for failing to ensure police stationed in schools are carefully chosen, well-trained and understand their roles and responsibilities.
Inspector General Joe Ferguson said the police department has failed to fully implement four of five recommendations his office issued in a report last September.
He also called out the City Council’s public safety committee for failing to hold a hearing on the report, even though aldermen demanded one last fall.
And Ferguson said he is concerned about private meetings between the police department and school district where some of the reforms are being hammering out.
“We are way off the rails,” Ferguson said. “We seem to have little appreciation for the importance of getting this program right and certainly no urgency in meeting the community where their needs and concerns are.”
After reading the report, the new chairman of the public safety committee, Christopher Taliaferro, said he intends to hold hearings as soon as possible. He was just appointed chair following Mayor Lori Lightfoot's inauguration.
In response to the inspector general’s follow up report, the Police Department issued a written statement, noting that a federal consent decree addresses many of the issues raised by the inspector general. The consent decree is a court approved and monitored agreement that obligates the Chicago Police Department to implement a long list of reforms. The consent decree was a response to the Laquan McDonald shooting.
Officials said an entire section of the consent decree addresses issues around school-based police officers, called school resource officers.
These “meaningful reforms are underway at CPD today,” according to the statement.
The police statement also says the department and Chicago Public Schools have held eight meetings with students, principals, teachers, parents and community groups to get input as it determines the roles and responsibilities of school-based police officers.
Chicago Public Schools officials also say they are “fully committed to working with the Chicago Police Department” so it can implement these reforms before the coming school year.
Ferguson credited the police department for moving forward, but said it should not be using the consent decree’s timeline as an excuse for not implementing reforms. Ferguson said he regularly hears from community members that they want these changes made promptly.
“We hear about this constantly and it is a matter of great consternation, great mystery, great upset,” he said. “It is really important because the presence of police officers in schools is really a keystone for people's understanding of what a relationship with police officers can and should be.”
Ferguson also said too many meetings with parents, students, and community members were being held behind closed doors.
“These are largely invite-only, hyper-controlled exercises,” he said. “There is no clear statement or understanding as to what is occurring in those meetings, what insights are being drawn and whether and how those insights and concerns are being incorporated into what will be the final product.”
One of the most shocking revelations in the original report was that the police department was unable to provide a list of officers working as school resource officers. In January, the police department gave the inspector general a roster listing 176 officers in 75 schools.
Following the recommendation to provide this roster was the only that was fully implemented, the inspector general found. Most of the other recommendations are in the process of being implemented.
This includes the recommendation to draft a memorandum of understanding that establishes what officers are supposed to be doing in schools. The earlier IG report revealed that the school district had police in schools with no formal agreement.
Police department officials say the meetings with the community are helping them develop the memorandum of understanding, as well as to create policy and procedures around recruitment, selection and training of officers.
The final recommendation the IG says CPS failed to implement was the creation of a school resource officer coordinator.