A federal judge on Thursday approved a 230-page plan to overhaul the Chicago Police Department, capping off almost a year-and-half of legal wrangling over the future of the department.
The judge’s decision is a major milestone in reform efforts started in 2015, after the release of a dashcam video showing the police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. It also means the start of a yearslong process overseen by the federal courts.
In his decision Thursday, Judge Robert Dow acknowledged the reform plan was “not perfect,” but he wrote “it is an important first step toward needed reforms of the Chicago Police Department and its policies.”
The plan, called a consent decree, was negotiated between the city of Chicago and the Illinois attorney general — with input from the public and police officers. It was prompted by a federal investigation that found a pattern of abuse by Chicago police officers.
Most court-enforced police reform plans stay in place for years, some last more than a decade. The consent decree approved Thursday includes benchmarks for the Chicago Police Department that stretch into 2022.
“The decree takes an important step forward in the City of Chicago’s ongoing efforts to repair the damaged relationship between its police department and members of the community whom the department serves and protects,” Dow wrote. “But it is a beginning, not an end.”
The consent decree requires changes in multiple areas of the department including use-of-force policy, training, crisis intervention, and officer mental health. The plan will be supervised by an independent monitor to be appointed by the court within the next month.
Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who oversaw consent decree negotiations, called the judge’s ruling “historic and hopeful.”
“For the first time, Chicago has an enforceable, detailed plan to change police practices and ensure constitutional and safe policing for residents and officers,” Madigan said in a statement.
Dow approved the consent decree over the objections of Chicago’s police union and despite complaints by advocates that the decree doesn’t go far enough.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham warned the judge during a public hearing that the agreement would violate the rights of officers and make the city less safe.
At that same hearing, multiple people asked the judge to add tougher language around how the department responds to people with disabilities and mental health crises.
Still, the judge said “the vast majority of public commenters” endorsed the consent decree.
Dow cautioned the consent decree “is not a panacea, nor is it a magic wand.” And he pointed out that many of the most important changes in the plan will require negotiating with the police union.
The judge closed his ruling with a simple, three-word sentence: “Let us begin.”