Updated at 3:27 p.m.
The city of Chicago has failed to meet at least a third of the deadlines in the first six months of the legally-binding police reform plan being overseen by a federal judge.
Among the missed deadlines are a requirement that the Police Department post monthly information on shootings and other incidents of police force, a deadline to “develop and implement a policy that prohibits sexual misconduct” by officers and a promised overhaul of the field training program for officers fresh out of the academy. In one instance, the city misrepresented its progress to the judge overseeing the reform plan, which is laid out in a legal agreement called a consent decree.
The city agreed to the reform plan last year following a critical federal report on the Chicago Police Department that was prompted by video of the police killing of Laquan McDonald. The consent decree took effect March 1, and it laid out an ambitious schedule for overhauling the Police Department — with more than 70 deadlines in the first half-year of the plan.
This month, the city submitted a semiannual progress report to the judge overseeing the consent decree. In the filing, city attorneys described the plan as having “numerous aggressive deadlines” that required “considerable” work, but concluded that “the city has made significant progress” on the requirements outlined in the plan.
In the progress report, city attorneys told the judge that the police board had drafted selection criteria for board members as required by the consent decree “and is currently soliciting public comment” on the new criteria, but that is not true. As of Friday, the draft criteria had not been made available to the public, one of the two dozen benchmarks the city has missed
Police reform advocates say the city is not living up to many of its promises.
“It’s definitely a set of ambitious deadlines, but the remainder of the consent decree is ambitious too,” said Karen Sheley, director of the Police Practices Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “So if they’re going to miss deadlines in the first six months, people who live in neighborhoods that are affected by this — and that’s everybody in the city — we need an explanation of how they’re going to catch up and what they’re going to do about it.”
Sheley represents community groups who won the right to help enforce the court agreement.
A WBEZ review of city and court records shows that the city of Chicago has met 29 of 53 public deadlines and failed to meet 24 of the deadlines. There are an additional 19 deadlines for which it is unclear whether they have been met because compliance will be based on a review by an independent monitor..
“What I’m worried about is that when I talked to my clients who are living in neighborhoods with a lot of police interactions, they’re not feeling changes because of the consent decree,” Sheley said. “They’ve already waited a lifetime to get to this point. So to wait longer than the six months for some of these deadlines that have now passed, it feels really frustrating to people.”
In a written statement, Chicago law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the city is committed to implementing the police reforms “ in a thoughtful and timely manner.”
However, he said the city is prioritizing getting the reforms right and consulting with the other parties in the agreement over meeting specific deadlines.
“While we are working diligently to comply with the requirements, the city is placing greater importance on affirming our reforms have undergone the appropriate reviews by the independent monitor and attorney general to ensure we’re working towards a more transparent, accountable and professional police force that serves all communities and stands the test of time,” McCaffrey said.
The statement did not address the city’s misrepresentation in the progress report about the police board criteria.
Georgetown law professor Christy Lopez helped oversee the federal investigation into the Chicago Police Department when she was in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice and said it is common for cities under police consent decrees to miss early deadlines because the deadlines are “often overly ambitious.”
Lopez said it is “unfortunate” but not surprising that Chicago is behind on its obligations.
“How important it is depends on how much work is happening,” Lopez said.
She said if a city is working diligently on reform and missing deadlines in an effort “to get it right,” then it is not concerning.
“But if you’re missing the deadline, and it’s because you’re stonewalling, or because you haven’t committed the resources … then that’s obviously a different question,” Lopez said.
Northwestern law professor and MacArthur Justice Center attorney Sheila Bedi agreed it is not uncommon for deadlines to be extended. However, Bedi said she is “alarmed at the pace of consent decree compliance” and with the “lack of transparency” coming from the city. She said if deadlines need to be extended to get reform right, the public needs to be told why it’s happening and the new deadline.
“This agreement is a federal court order, and the deadlines in this agreement, they’re not suggestions. They are orders from the federal court,” Bedi said. “So it is critically important that there is a demonstration from the city that it understands how important compliance is.”
“We’ll all be watching”
While it is behind in many areas, records show the city has mostly lived up to its obligations when it comes to community policing, including the creation of a “community-driven” annual strategic plan for each police district.
“The Department recognizes that meaningful engagement with the communities it serves is a critical component to success,” the city wrote in its status report. “CPD has worked during the past six months to strengthen its community engagement processes.”
However, Bedi said the city’s community outreach has “lacked engagement” and integrity.
And she called the city’s semiannual progress report “quite defensive.” She said the progress report suggests the city is “largely resting on its laurels” when it comes to reforming the department.
Ultimately the task of determining whether the city is meeting its obligations in the consent decree falls to monitor Maggie Hickey, who is scheduled to give an update on the city’s progress at an event Saturday in the West Side Austin neighborhood.
Hickey’s first monitoring report is due at the end of the month.
“I think we’ll all be watching to see what that monitor’s report says, giving the city a grade on its efforts so far,” Sheley said.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.