Police accountability has been a huge issue in Chicago, but has been virtually ignored in the suburbs. The next Illinois Attorney General could change that.
“You can’t be an attorney general … without paying serious attention to the quality of criminal justice in your state. It’s probably your prime responsibility,” said former Maine attorney general James Tierney, a Harvard Law School lecturer.
In Chicago, outgoing Attorney General Lisa Madigan has sued the city in an attempt to force federal oversight of police reform efforts. But how to reform police departments outside the city’s borders remains a question.
In an effort to hold those officers more accountable, the candidates vying to be the next attorney general have pledged to file federal lawsuits, investigate corruption, and push legislation.
The promises come weeks after WBEZ and the Better Government Association found 113 police shootings in suburban Cook County since 2005. Not a single officer was disciplined. What’s more, most departments don’t even investigate if the officers followed procedure. The lack of accountability has a financial cost. Taxpayers have paid out more than $12 million to settle lawsuits in at least 25 separate police shootings.
In other states, attorneys general have taken active roles in efforts to increase police accountability. In New Jersey, for example, an attorney general directive requires policy and procedure reviews of police shootings, experts said. In California, the attorney general has conducted multiple civil rights investigations in the same way the U.S. Department of Justice has done.
In Illinois, critics have said Madigan’s efforts to push police reform in Chicago is too little, too late. Madigan declined to be interviewed for this story. But her lawsuit serves as an example of a process many candidates promise to take advantage of if elected to be the state’s top law enforcement officer.
WBEZ spoke to all of the candidates running for attorney general about what they plan to do if elected. Here’s what they said:
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ criminal justice reporter. Follow him @pksmid.