Last January, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report that detailed how Chicago police systematically violated civil rights, especially against African-Americans. In response, the city pledged more police accountability and better training for officers.
Lori Lightfoot, chair of the citizen body that oversees the Chicago Police Department , said this week that the city has made progress, but more foundational changes are needed.
“There’s a number of things that both the police accountability task force and the DOJ recommended that have not been addressed,” Lightfoot said. “The biggest on my list go toward the question of accountability and risk management.”
Lightfoot joined WBEZ’s Lisa Labuz to reflect on the DOJ’s report and share what she believes the city should focus on this year.
On the city implementing Department of Justice recommendations
Lori Lightfoot: There’s definitely been some progress made. March of last year, the department issued its plan to address reforms. A big focus for last year was getting out the new use of force policy and then doing training for the entire force. That’s a big, significant step forward. They’ve also worked on building out a new framework for community police relations, which I also think is a big step forward.
This year, I think, people need to see the department not just working on the low hanging fruit and necessary things, but really making some substantive, foundational change.
On the department’s urgent needs
Lightfoot: The accountability measures, putting in place an early intervention system. That has been on the drawing board and under works for now almost two years, but the city needs to fully fund that structure. What that is is a management tool to allow supervisors to identify problem officers at the earliest possible stage. Every major department in the country has such a system in place, and yet, we don't have that yet in Chicago. That’s a major problem.
On the biggest barriers to making the rest of the changes
Lightfoot: Well, you have to actually embrace the need for change. And that sounds simplistic, but if there isn't a willingness, all up and down the organization and also from the mayor’s office, to really get at the big systemic problems in the department that are driving the kind of issues that we saw reflected in the task force report and the DOJ report, then you’re never really going to be able to make progress.
On community groups’ pushback on officer training and hiring
Lightfoot: I understand why people are up in arms about the $95 million price tag — and frankly, I think it will be higher than that — that is being projected for a new training academy. I don't think that it has to be an either/or dichotomy. There’s no question in my mind that we need a new police academy. When we have, for example, Taser training done in the hallways of the police academy because there is no other spot, and it has to be interrupted every few minutes because recruits are doing their PT training by running through those very same hallways, we have a problem. And we’re not going to get a better trained, more constitutional policing group of officers when the facilities that are necessary to do the training are just not up to speed.
But we also need to address what's really at the core of these activists’ protest, which is the lack of investment on a number of core issues in neighborhoods on the South and West sides. That requires a comprehensive plan that deals with things like economic development , jobs, health care, making sure that we have great schools that people can access everywhere. That’s a larger conversation, but I think we’ve got to also keep pushing forward on the things that are necessary to reform the police department.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment.