Independent Monitor Finds Chicago Is Missing 70% Of Court-Mandated Police Reforms

photo of police badges
Officers participate in a Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony at Navy Pier on July 9, 2019. According to an independent monitor, the city is still missing the majority of consent decree deadlines a year into the police reform plan. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
photo of police badges
Officers participate in a Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony at Navy Pier on July 9, 2019. According to an independent monitor, the city is still missing the majority of consent decree deadlines a year into the police reform plan. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Independent Monitor Finds Chicago Is Missing 70% Of Court-Mandated Police Reforms

A new report finds that as Chicagoans continue to march in the streets, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks a big game on police reform, her administration is failing to implement actual reforms as required by a federal judge, reforms the city promised to adopt a little more than a year ago.

In the report filed in federal court Thursday evening, independent monitor Maggie Hickey concludes that in the first year of the court-enforced police reform plan known as a consent decree, Chicago missed nearly three quarters of its deadlines. In total there were 124 specific reform deadlines, Chicago only met only 35, according to Hickey’s report.

The filing is Hickey’s second semiannual report and covers deadlines from September through February. The update shows the city is making middling improvements — the city missed 75% of all its deadlines in the first six months of the agreement; in this second report the city blew 70% of the deadlines.

The missed deadlines include a failure by the Chicago Police Department to develop a policy that prohibits cops from dropping people off in rival gang territory, a failure to develop a policy prohibiting sexual misconduct by officers and a failure to collect and analyze 911 calls involving mental health crises.

“The monitor's report should be exhibit one in any argument for why the police need to be defunded. It really helps demonstrate the fact that even with the incredible power of the federal court, this is an agency, this is an entity that is just intransigent and that is refusing to change,” said Sheila Bedi, a Northwestern University law professor and attorney for activist groups. “Consent decrees can be very important harm reduction measures, but with a department like this that has refused to implement even the most modest of changes, I think that this report really demonstrates the importance and the legitimacy of the demand to defund the police.”

In a written statement Hickey called this a “critical time in history and for law enforcement.”

“The recent grief, outrage, protest, and unrest spurred by the tragic death of George Floyd demonstrate the urgent need for police reform across the country and here in Chicago,” Hickey said. “It is my hope that the current momentum around police accountability will inspire the City and the CPD to accelerate its efforts.”

Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown put out a joint statement saying the new report shows that reform “cannot be achieved overnight.”

“We can do better, and we are redoubling our efforts to meet important milestones mandated by the consent decree,” the statement reads.

The independent monitoring team does give Chicago credit in the court filing for making some progress in its reform efforts, and credits former interim Superintendent Charlie Beck for a department-wide reorganization that places “responsibilities for the consent decree’s reform efforts throughout the CPD’s leadership.”

“The [monitoring team] appreciates the CPD’s holistic efforts to institutionalize reform,” the report reads.

However, the Illinois attorney general’s office, which is a party in the case and filed comments on the report, wrote that the city is failing to devote enough resources to reform.

“The City and CPD have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to culture change in use of force and transparency. They have failed to meaningfully engage community members in policy development, training, and policing strategies,” Shareese Pryor, chief of the attorney general’s civil rights division, wrote in the court filing. “And the City and CPD have done little to reform the City’s largely ineffective police accountability system.”

Pryor goes on to write that she is “concerned that the report obscures the extremely slow pace of the City and CPD’s progress.”

Chicago Police Deputy Superintendent Barbara West - who is in charge of the department’s reform efforts - said she understands why the Attorney General’s office feels “as if we're not moving quickly enough.”

“But we're trying and we're not slow rolling this,” West said.

West said the city is adding staff to its consent-decree compliance team to develop policies and training.

“So that's what we're trying to do now, double down on efforts to increase our speed. Not necessarily doing it fast, but doing it more efficiently and doing it with the community involved,” West said.

West said the consent decree process, which requires the department to consult with the monitoring team, the Illinois Attorney General’s office and community partners, slows down the creation of policies and changes to training, making it harder for the city to meet its deadlines.

However she said the collaboration is ultimately making the reforms stronger and more lasting.

“We want to get it right,” West said. “So if this is the process we have to take to get great policy and great training and get community trust and engagement, then I think we have to do it.”

West said she believes the city will be able to catch up on reform deadlines and that ensuing reports will show the city is in greater compliance.

Bedi said she was hopeful things will improve, not because she believes the city is committed to reform, but because of pressure from ongoing protests.

“I'm hopeful because of the movement. I'm hopeful because of the historic failures of CPD, it's clear that people are no longer going to tolerate that,” Bedi said.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.