Sasha-Ann Simons: A Cook County judge is ordering the city of Chicago to provide anyone who was arrested easier access to family attorneys and phone calls shortly after entering police custody. Specifically if a person is arrested, they now must have access to phone calls within three hours of detainment. The judge's order, which is being called a consent decree, it's the result of an agreement between activists, civil rights attorneys, the Cook County public defender's office and the Lightfoot administration. Here with more is WBEZ Criminal justice reporter Chip Mitchell. Welcome back. So what do we know about this consent decree?
Chip Mitchell: Well, the advocates behind it, they say this is the most specific consent decree in the country, spelling out how the police department has to carry out its commitments under case law. That goes back to the 1950's, more than half a century. That law, Sasha, includes rights under the U. S. Supreme Court's landmark 1966 ruling in Miranda versus Arizona People may recognize that the name the party Miranda, we're all familiar with it from detective shows about the rights that we're supposed to read defendants when they're arrested. So one of those rights of course, is to remain silent. Another is access to an attorney even if the defendant can't afford one. So the advocates who sued for this consent decree, they hope it will become a model for other cities.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Yeah, this is being described to the press as a historic consent decree to end Chicago police practice of incommunicado detention. What do they mean, exactly?
Chip Mitchell: Well, that just means when the police are holding someone without meaningful access to lawyers or family members, you know, unable to call them unable to be contacted by people on the outside and so on.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Gotcha. You mentioned earlier chip that this is very specific. Why the three hours?
Chip Mitchell: Well, the three hour limit for police to be able to, you know, what this three, what this limit is actually, it - the police have to enable detainees within three hours of arriving at the station to make three phone calls to whoever they want. Family members, attorneys and so on. Um and where that that number three, for the number of hours, it actually comes from the safety act, which is this big package of criminal justice reforms that Governor Pritzker signed into law last year, Sasha.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Tell us more about how they're related.
Chip Mitchell: Well, this consent decree, it codifies that law in a very specific way. So for example, there has to now be a telephone for detainees to use in every interrogation room. And with that telephone signage about their rights to make calls. And then there has to be access by um attorneys and family members to people to call in to the detainees. Um and you know, it goes on from there. People on the outside the attorneys who brought this agreement, they're going to get to look at data on arrests and be able to monitor monitor this agreement, bring it back to the judge if there are problems for years. At least two years.
Sasha-Ann Simons: And you you mentioned signage now, you know alerting folks that they will have this right to to make this phone call. Sounds like there were people in the past that didn't know that this is something that they could do.
Chip Mitchell: Yeah. And and truthfully it hasn't really been clearly defined in the law either. Um, uh the advocates and attorneys who pushed for this consent decree. They, they say that detainees for decades have been sometimes held for hours and hours, even days without meaningful access to an attorney. And it becomes the subject of a lot of litigation in in their criminal cases as they unfold. They connect, these civil rights advocates, they connected a long history of the city of false confessions and wrongful convictions in murder cases, including the ones that detectives under commander Jon Burge extracted. People will recognize that name because it's tied to a lot of torture that took place in murder cases from the 1970s right up to the early 1990s.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Wow. So before this, this ruling from the judge, was there no specific time that CPD had allotted to allow people that access that phone call or to talk with an attorney?
Chip Mitchell: No, it was not spelled out. It wasn't spelled out very clearly. And and it was always the subject of, you know, of a lot of, you know courtroom battles subsequently. You know, so there would be, you know, it may be the cops on the one hand and they may even have it on videotape saying, well, we told them about their right to an attorney and um, and they asked about it, but they did, they weren't specific enough saying I want an attorney right now, you know, that you get into fights like that about semantics on, on whether the police provided access. So this will really clarify a lot of things according to the, the advocates who brought this lawsuit leading to the consent decree.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Can you talk a bit more, Chip, about how the landscape for police reform has changed since that summer protest we all remember of 2020?
Chip Mitchell: Yeah. So, you know, under this consent decree, I think it will mostly affect people accused of very serious crimes like murder and sex abuse, but, but the people who brought the lawsuit were actually these act, a lot of activists, people who led the protests that took place after George Floyd's murder by police in Minneapolis. And in 2020, those protests led to the safety act. That, that criminal justice reform package, we mentioned that was passed here in Illinois. Um, but at the same time, Sasha, since that same period since mid-2020, the city has also had a big surge in homicides, shootings, carjackings. So big crime surge and there's been a big backlash, um, against some key parts of the safety act, even though most of it hasn't even taken effect yet blaming this criminal justice reform um for that crime surge. So you know the biggest controversy is about eliminating cash bail. That's part of the safety active starting this coming January. Um that would require judges to order defendants to be detained based not on their wealth but on factors such as the risk to the public. Will they show up for their court dates and so on. So this consent decree really actually it runs against the current of a big backlash that we're seeing against criminal justice reform right now as a result of the crime surge.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Well the big question before you go Chip, when does this consent decree take effect?
Chip Mitchell: It is set to take effect February 1st. And the parties say that's because the general order - the police order's drafted - but CPD apparently needs the time to train officers on this. They say they're training thousands of officers on how to carry out this consent decree.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Interesting. That is criminal justice reporter Chip Mitchell, thank you for the update
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