Lori Lightfoot says she would serve another term as president of the Chicago Police Board even though she has publicly criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s approach to reforming the police department.
Lightfoot’s term as the head of the Police Board, which makes disciplinary decisions in cases of police misconduct, expires at the end of the month. Emanuel has not said whether he’ll ask Lightfoot to stay for another term.
“I would stay, of course,” Lightfoot told Morning Shift host Jenn White on Tuesday. “And if they don’t, I’ll continue to be very front and center on these issues.”
In recent months, Lightfoot has blasted Emanuel’s approach to making reforms within the Chicago Police Department. Emanuel had pledged to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Justice over a court-enforced agreement, but Lightfoot says the mayor has reversed course.
According to Lightfoot, the proposal that the Emanuel administration sent to the Justice Department lacks transparency and fails to institute the sort of systematic reforms needed to truly change the police department.
“There’s a lot of pages but there’s not a lot of specific content, perspectively, on what the police department needs to do,” Lightfoot said on Morning Shift. “I don’t know why that level of detail isn’t in there. I heard it was a timing issue, but my response to that is, well, if you’re not ready, wait. This is too important not to get right.”
Lightfoot spoke at length about her vision of police reform in Chicago and how it differs with Emanuel’s. Below are highlights from the conversation.
On the value of a reform agreement with specific goals
Lori Lightfoot: If you think about these agreements, it’s really driven by the specific commitments that the city and the department make towards reform. You’ve got to have some meat on the bone. If there’s specific commitments, it gives a roadmap to the department on what marks they need to meet and on what timeline.
Frankly, I think it enhances the hand of the superintendent to drive reform for those folks who maybe aren’t as on board with reform as they need to be. If you’ve got a written agreement, you can’t wiggle around it. You’ve got to meet that challenge.
On the cost of reform to taxpayers
Lightfoot: You can’t do reform on the cheap. I would like to have seen — and I’m hoping that will happen in whatever the final draft agreement is — a specific dollar amount to support the police department in its efforts towards reform.
The reality is this is tens of millions of dollars a year that has to be spent. And there have been some critics who’ve said, “Well, we’re really concerned about how much a consent decree would cost.” Well, to that I’d say, “Welcome to being fiscally responsible.”
We spent $50 million of taxpayer dollars last year on settlements and judgments and attorney’s fees related to the police department. That’s not being fiscally responsible. We’ve got to get that number down, and the only path towards doing that is implementing the range of reforms that both the Department of Justice and the Task Force have recommended.
On what’s next for police reform in Chicago
Lightfoot: I think there’s a lot of things in Chicago that comes next. I’m not aware of whether or not the city has gotten feedback from the Trump administration, but regardless of that, I think the focus has to be engaging stakeholders in Chicago. They haven’t asked me, but if they did, what I would say is: Let’s take the series of reforms that we think are important for the five-year period that they’re proposing for this agreement — and we’ll figure out the name of what it’s called later — and let’s figure out what the work plan is for that.
But let’s also engage community members, subject matter experts here in Chicago, [asking] do these [reforms] make sense? Are these the right ones? What’s the right sequence? That’s an easy thing to do and frankly, in my view, could be a very easy win for the mayor and his team if they went about engaging folks in that way.
On renewing her term as Police Board president
Jenn White: If the mayor reaches out to you and asks you to stay on, do you feel you can still be effective when you disagree this strongly with the direction the mayor is moving, and where reform is concerned?
Lightfoot: Yeah, I mean the Police Board work is totally separate. We are independent. There’s never been any interference by anybody in the mayor’s office with the work we do. We’re essentially a court. We hear the cases in front of us; we decide them on the facts that are in the record. So that’s two completely different functions.
Look, I think it’s important for the mayor and for his team to hear honest feedback from folks who may have a different perspective than they do. Presumably, that’s why they reached out to me in the first instance and — it’ll be up to them whether or not they think that my voice continues to have value, but regardless, I’m going to keep fighting this fight because I think it’s critically important to the quality of life of our city and, more importantly, to the people in those neighborhoods who are most vulnerable, who need effective, constitutional policing. We’ve got to fight for them and that’s what I’m doing.
White: So just to be clear, if they say ‘we want you to stay on,’ the answer is?
Lightfoot: I would stay, of course. And if they don’t, I’ll continue to be very front and center on these issues.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire segment.