Leadership Change At Chicago Police Union Ignites Contract Fight
African-American elected officials said Thursday that they will continue pushing for changes to the Chicago’s police union contract, which the newly-elected Fraternal Order of Police president has promised to defend.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), the leader of the City Council’s Black Caucus, threatened to block approval of a new contract if it doesn’t include significant changes.
“The FOP contract has been serving and protecting a culture of racism in our police department for far too long,” he said.
The city’s contract with the FOP expires at the end of June. Sawyer joined other aldermen, Cook County elected officials and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) in calling for changes that would hold officers accountable if they abuse their power.
For example, Sawyer said he wants to allow people to file anonymous complaints against police. He said the contract currently requires that officers receive the names of people who have lodged complaints against them.
The FOP’s incoming president, Kevin Graham, campaigned on a hard-line platform. Immediately after Wednesday’s election, he issued a statement saying he looked forward to “fighting the anti-police movement in our city.”
Sawyer said he, too, is prepared for a fight.
“I’m expecting him to represent his constituency,” Sawyer said of Graham. “And we’re going to represent our constituency-- which is the 50,000-plus each of us represents. And we’ll let our numbers do the talking.”
The police contract received heavy criticism in a January report from the U.S. Department of Justice following a year-long probe of the Chicago Police Department. The federal civil rights investigation was launched after the city released video showing the 2014 fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, by a white officer.
The Justice Department’s report blasted the FOP’s current contract, saying it is is partly to blame for a majority of police misconduct cases not being fully investigated. Of the 30,000 complaints made against Chicago officers during the last five years, 98 percent of cases resulted in no discipline, according to the report.
Federal investigators also said the FOP’s contract added “obstacles” to disciplining officers in some misconduct cases because the contract allows officers to correct statements in misconduct investigations if they are contradicted by video evidence.
Graham did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
His campaign promised a tougher approach to media relations, and a brief Facebook post promised that Chicago media would “be held accountable” if he were elected.
Graham held a one-minute press briefing on Thursday afternoon, announcing that he was working with the prior FOP administration to make a smooth transition.
He took no questions.
Dan Weissmann is a reporter for WBEZ. You can follow him at @danweissmann.