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Chicago’s Police Reform Is A ‘Long-Term Project’

Last January, the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report that detailed the Chicago Police Department’s pattern of excessive and unnecessary force. It stressed that the city would need federal oversight to making meaningful changes.

One year later, and no such oversight exists, despite multiple lawsuits — including one from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Sharon Fairley was responsible for investigating police misconduct cases in Chicago, leading both the Independent Police Review Authority, and its successor, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. She left her post in October and said this week that visible police reform can take years.

“This is a long-term project,” Failey said. “When you look at the jurisdictions that have gone through this kind of reform, it’s a multiyear endeavor, and the process can take anywhere between five to ten years.”

Fairley, who is now running for Illinois attorney general, joined WBEZ’s Melba Lara to talk about how she views the city’s progress on police reform since the report was released.

On where she thinks the city stands one year later

Sharon Fairley: I think there are a couple of reforms that have been important that we have accomplished in the last year. The first, that I actually think is the most important, is the change in the department’s use of force policies. The department developed revised guidelines and put them out for public comment. That was a major accomplishment because there were some really important changes that took those policies to a place that was much more appropriate.

Then, of course, the second thing was getting the new agency up and running. There were a couple of things in the Civilian Office of Police Accountability that will really help the agency be able to better fulfill the mission going forward: the budget, and then, also, the power to bring in outside counsel. We spent a lot of time really taking to heart the feedback that was outlined in the Department of Justice’s report about all the problems and deficiencies that the prior agency had.

On the public’s concern about slow-moving change

Fairley: I think you’re right to be a little concerned about here we are, a year later, and we actually don't yet have a consent decree. But, as you know, the Trump administration has said that they don’t really believe in those kinds of lawsuits and those kinds of endeavors, and really walked away from that negotiation process.

Now, thankfully, Attorney General Madigan stepped into that void, filed a lawsuit, and is now pursuing to have a role in the oversight process.for the police department’s reforms.

But I do believe people are getting a little concerned and a little impatient, just because we’ve kind of had radio silence from them and we really need to hear more as a community about what the process is, how long it’s going to take, and when should we expect to hear from them.

On the police union including reform in contract negotiations

Fairley: I want to be cautiously optimistic. The FOP, at least from what I’ve heard, really kind of tried to resist the reform process as opposed to really engaging with the reform process, which I think would actually be more in the best interests of their constituents. Because if they engage in the process, then they have the opportunity to shape the reform in a way that works to the benefit of the people they represent.

Police reform doesn't have to just be about being tough on officers. It’s really meant also to make sure that the officers have the resources and training that they need to succeed in their jobs and do well.

On protests against the new training facility

Fairley: There’s no question that the department needs an improved facility to conduct the training program that they need to do. It’s training not only for the officers before they actually hit the ground running on the force, they need to have ongoing, regular training to keep those skills up to snuff. And that, we’ve recognized as a real significant outage and one of the reasons why we have so many concerns with the excessive force incidents that we’re seeing, including the shootings.

The training facility that the department currently has is woefully inadequate. Whether or not they need a facility that costs $80 or 90 million, I think that’s an important question to ask and a question that the administration needs to answer.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment.

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