Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is leaving the door open to abolishing the Independent Police Review Authority, as suggested by his Police Accountability Task Force, but the mayor said he wants to wait for the Department of Justice to finish its investigation into the police department.
“I think it would be a mistake for us, it’s not just me, to do something where six, seven months later, eight months later, the Justice Department says we did it wrong. And then we’re gonna change the system again,” he said.
Emanuel says when it comes to police oversight, he’s open to more involvement by the public, and having an auditor or inspector general — two ideas that were suggested by the task force. But the mayor says he’s hesitant to do something that is “a big lift” while he waits on the Justice Department. The DOJ is conducting what’s known as a “pattern and practice” investigation into the police department’s use of force and discipline, a process that could take a while. A similar DOJ investigation in Cleveland took more than a year and a half.
The mayor’s office announced this week that it would implement about a third of the recommendations the task force suggested in its report. Many of the reforms the mayor announced late Wednesday night were things the department is already doing, like facilitating meetings with the Superintendent, increasing mental health training for officers and expanding its body-worn camera program.
There are also a handful of new programs, like an independent hotline that police officers can use to anonymously report misconduct by other officers.
But one of the biggest takeaways from the report was not addressed in the mayor’s latest list of reforms. The task force suggested the city implement a “citywide reconciliation process beginning with the Superintendent publicly acknowledging CPD’s history of racial disparity and discrimination.”
When asked if he and Johnson thought this declaration was necessary, Emanuel said he has gone public about his intolerance for racism before. The mayor brought up the city’s decision to pay reparations to victims of police torture by Commander Jon Burge, and his public statements about the “racially insensitive” behavior of a police officer who played “Sweet Home Alabama” during a protest in 2014.
As for Johnson, he echoed statements made by the mayor that since racism exists across the country, it also exists in the police department. But while he said there’s no place in the police department for police who “engage in racism,” he also suggested there is a balance that he needs to strike as police chief.
“I have to acknowledge that there’s different segments of the city that have been treated, and a lot of times wrongly by the police department. So I acknowledge that, and you know, I do apologize for that. But moving forward we have to put things in place so it doesn’t occur again.”
“What’s happened has happened, it happened years ago but I don’t want the citizens of Chicago to paint the entire department with that broad brush,” Johnson said.
The mayor’s office says the city is further reviewing the remaining recommendations in the report.
Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.