Former Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not take his advice four years ago to overhaul the city’s “dysfunctional” police-discipline system.
In a sworn deposition as part of a lawsuit alleging police misconduct, McCarthy said he recommended “a top-to-bottom review” of the system. He said he made the recommendation during “early 2012” conversations with Emanuel, Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton and the mayor’s chief of staff.
McCarthy asked for “a blue-ribbon panel of experts in police discipline” from across the country, according to his deposition, which took place on January 20, 2016. WBEZ obtained the transcript using the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
To find those experts, McCarthy said he recommended the city take advantage of his national connections.
Emanuel went a different route. The city arranged for a pro-bono study eventually led by Ron Safer, a Chicago-based former assistant U.S. attorney. The city did not release Safer’s report until December 23, 2014 — two days before Christmas. The report made a range of recommendations, including holding police supervisors accountable for actions of their subordinates, but received little attention.
The panel that McCarthy recommended, according to his testimony, would have examined the Police Board, the Independent Police Review Authority, and the police department, including its Internal Affairs Division. The panel would have recommended “structural changes regarding how the system worked,” McCarthy said.
In his 2012 conversations with the mayor and other city officials, McCarthy testified he “pointed out what I believed was a dysfunctional disciplinary system, where I had accountability but not authority.”
He explained that the Police Board makes the final decision on terminations and suspensions of more than 30 days “yet I’m accountable for the behavior of every police officer.”
McCarthy said the problem was not just the Police Board but IPRA.
“Those entities may not share the vision of the person who is running the department [or] understand police culture because they’re all civilians,” McCarthy said. “It made it very difficult to implement my vision of policing and standards of behavior.”
“If I’m the person who is instilling the values of the department in the individuals, the discipline system has to reflect that,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy pointed out that the Police Board, whose nine members are appointed by the mayor, ruled against many of his recommendations to fire officers.
“It’s troubling that communities across the country want … civilian oversight of police departments, and here we are where I’m recommending termination of individuals, and three out of four are not being terminated,” McCarthy said. “We are not getting what we want out of that system.”
In response to McCarthy’s point, a statement from the mayor’s office notes that Illinois law protects an officer’s right to appeal terminations and suspensions of more than 30 days to the Police Board.
Attorney Lori Lightfoot, president of the Police Board, says that protection exists for good reasons. “The public and the officers have a right to believe that it’s been a fair process and not left to the discretion of a single person,” she said, referring to the police superintendent.
McCarthy’s testimony mentions Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014. That case languished in the hands of Cook County prosecutors and federal authorities. IPRA’s investigation apparently went nowhere.
More than a year later, a judge ordered the city to release a police dashboard-camera video of the shooting. The video sparked a public outcry. Emanuel fired McCarthy and said the superintendent had “become an issue, rather than dealing with the issue, and a distraction.”
The same day he announced McCarthy’s dismissal, Emanuel said he was forming a task force to undertake a “a top-to-bottom review” of the city’s police-accountability system.