What You Need To Know About Chicago’s Proposed Police Reform Plan

Laquan McDonald
In this frame from dash-cam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald, right, walks down the street moments before being fatally shot by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke sixteen times in Chicago. Chicago Police Department via AP File / Associated Press
Laquan McDonald
In this frame from dash-cam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald, right, walks down the street moments before being fatally shot by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke sixteen times in Chicago. Chicago Police Department via AP File / Associated Press

What You Need To Know About Chicago’s Proposed Police Reform Plan

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Updated: 5:22 p.m.

In a long-awaited announcement, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a proposed plan to ensure reforms are carried out at the troubled Chicago Police Department, which has struggled to regain public confidence after the infamous shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in 2014. 

The draft plan seeks to essentially put the police department’s reform efforts under the oversight of a court-appointed monitor in an agreement known as a consent decree. If the plan is approved, the federal court and the monitor would ensure reforms are carried out at the department by certain deadlines. 

“What is different about this police reform effort, is that unlike those of the past, attempts to just talk the talk but not walk the walk will be unsuccessful,” Madigan told reporters Friday. “Too many Chicago residents do not feel safe in their own communities, but also do not feel safe calling the police. And too many officers do not feel supported in their efforts to make communities safe.”

Here’s a look at the major recommendations in the plan, why they’re important, what’s not in the plan, why the timing of the release is important, and what comes next.

What’s in the plan?

Use of force: The draft proposal would require changes to the police department’s use-of force policy, including enhancing de-escalation tactics, and require verbal warnings prior to any use of force. 

Life-saving procedures: The agreement would require officers to provide life-saving aid, which they will get training for and be equipped with first-aid kits.

Tasers: Limits would be in place on the department’s use of Tasers, such as strongly discourage use in schools and on students. The proposal would also prohibit use for flight alone, and prohibit use on nonviolent, unarmed individuals.

Increased transparency: There would be monthly publication of use-of-force data that allows people to see how often force is used and where, a measure no other consent decree has required.

Reviews: The department must review use-of-force policy every two years and involve the community.

Sexual misconduct: City officials must make a best effort to amend COPA ordinance that would give COPA administrative jurisdiction over sexual misconduct allegations against officers.

Police union: Require the city make best effort to renegotiate with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the union representing rank-and-file cops, on multiple things in contract: requirement of affidavits for complaints. Eliminate bar on anonymous complaint. Eliminate policy of destroying files. This does not supersede the contracts, just requires best effort from city.

Legal actions: Quarterly report will be required on lawsuits, settlements, and jury verdicts related to the police department.

Officer mental health: The police department must develop a program to address high officer suicide rates. They must increase number of licensed mental health professional staff available to officers. Currently there are three and it requires they bring that up to 10 by Jan. 1, 2020.

What’s not in the plan?

Civilian oversight: Community groups advocated for civilian oversight of the police department, but that idea did not make it into the draft released on Friday. 

Gun reporting: A controversial change to force police to log every time they point their weapons at a person also got sidelined. The attorney general’s office, as well as city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, had backed the idea, but the Emanuel administration has argued against it.

Assistant Attorney General Cara Hendrickson said it is the one and only sticking point between the two sides, and they are asking the judge to make the final call on if the requirement should be in the final plan. They are releasing the rest of the agreement in the meantime.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Friday said forcing officers to record when they point a gun at someone could put their lives, and the lives of others, at risk. 

“What I can’t do as superintendent of this department is put police officers in a situation that causes them to hesitate,” he said. “You know, a hesitation can mean the loss of life for that officer or loss of life for a citizen in this city, and we simply can’t have that.”

Madigan, however, countered that “if somebody has a gun pointed at them, we need to know when that is happening. We need to know where that is happening.”

Why the timing of the draft’s release is important

The proposal comes at a pivotal time for the city. The trial for Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, is expected to begin in early September. 

The plan also comes on the heels of what is expected to be a heated mayoral race, where Emanuel faces a long list of challengers who are likely to zero in on the Emanuel administration’s handling of the shooting. 

Madigan, meanwhile, is retiring at the end of her term, and getting a consent decree in place before she leaves office would cement part of her political legacy. But whoever replaces her — either Republican Erika Harold or Democrat Kwame Raoul — would be thrust into litigation over the consent decree. 

The draft also comes more than a year after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the Chicago Police Department. Federal investigators found that the department followed unconstitutional practices that led to a pattern of abuse, such as shootings the feds said were unjustified.

What comes next?

The draft is being released now to elicit public feedback before a final version is submitted to the court. A job posting for the independent monitor will also be released Friday. The city is working on an October deadline, since any new costs associated with final version will need aldermanic approval. 

Once the draft is handed to the court, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow is expected to make a final ruling on the plan after holding hearings with various stakeholders.

But there could be a hiccup. 

The only reason Madigan and Emanuel have gotten to this point is because Madigan, citing the DOJ’s report, sued the government in order to begin talks on a consent decree. She did so after the Trump administration made clear it was not interested in pursuing a consent decree. (Black Lives Matter Chicago and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also sued and won the right to be involved in the attorney general’s lawsuit.)

Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, which represents Chicago’s rank-and-file officers, has been fighting to get its own seat at the table. In June they asked the judge overseeing the case to dismiss Madigan’s lawsuit altogether. Those motions are still pending.

In a hearing Wednesday, an attorney for the police union complained that on-the-ground officers have been shut out of the process.

The FOP has fiercely defended officers and called the efforts to impose a consent decree as “bizarre and dangerous.”

“This lawsuit and the proposed consent decree that would arise from it are based upon a biased federal investigation from a presidential administration with a clear antipathy to law enforcement, an antipathy that has drastically undermined law and order throughout the country and placed the most innocent and vulnerable members of society at the greatest peril,” the union said in a statement.

How are people reacting?

FOP President Kevin Graham called the draft plan “politically motivated” during a Friday press conference.

“Illegal and invalid,” Graham said of the proposal. “We have a very strong court challenge to it, which will be heard in federal court.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), who is the chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said none of the provisions outlined in the draft would be too burdensome to officers.

“I think it’s a good first step, and I guess what I’m more interested in is us doing what’s necessary to get these things forward to try to fight crime and at the same time re-establish that trust that’s been lost between the public and the police,” Sawyer said adding he’s glad the plan did not include anything about civilian oversight of the police department because voters can always oust elected officials if they are unhappy with how things are being handled.

Sheila Bedi, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Black Lives Matter lawsuit, said her clients are withholding judgement until they have more time to study the proposal.

“A meaningful consent decree must be developed by those most impacted by police brutality and violence and must ensure real community-based oversight and enforcement,” she said in a statement.

Karen Sheley, an attorney with the ACLU of Illinois, criticized the plan for not making it mandatory for cops to log when they point a gun at someone.

“Incredibly, this draft still does not require officers to record when they point a weapon at someone. The City of Chicago just settled a case for $2.5 million where police held a gun to the chest of a 3-year-old child. Given the absence of this provision, we need to examine this draft very closely.”

Additional reporting by Hunter Clauss.