Police reform will fall flat without community input, Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot argued in a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week.
Lightfoot lead the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force, which said that the city’s police accountability system is broken and that the community’s lack of trust in the CPD is justified.
WBEZ’s Melba Lara spoke with Lightfoot about how citizens can get involved and what exactly they can do. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What do you feel is missing from the city’s approach to police reform currently?
The Mayor announced that he was going to be presenting an ordinance to City Council at their June meeting…and that three elements would be in that ordinance: a replacement organization for IPRA, a public safety inspector general and a new citizen oversight board.
While we think that those were really important steps forward, I said at the time and I say now that a lot more needed to be done. And our expectation was that coupled with that announcement there would be a specific plan and strategy for engaging both members of the public and subject matter experts in filling in the details of what that ordinance should look like.
And beyond that, what we called for in the letter yesterday is having the elected officials, the Mayor’s office and so forth put together a broader strategic plan for the implementation of the task force recommendations and then subjecting that strategic plan to public comment and review.
In this time that we’re in, the old ways of doing things, drafting things behind closed doors, not engaging the public in a narrative and a discussion about the substance of public policy, are just not going to work.
Who are you advocating should be involved in these conversations?
The people in the neighborhoods that are most affected by policing, particularly those folks that are in crime-ravaged neighborhoods. We heard a significant amount of heart wrenching testimony from those folks at the various public forums that were held by the task force.
They’re the people who were marching in the street, but they’re also people who are everyday folks. Folks who aren’t looking for fame and glory but who are dramatically affected by the way in which we do policing in this city.
In particular, we can’t think about standing up a civilian oversight board and not inviting the public into the conversation. That is just going to be dead on arrival.
Before Independent Police Review Authority, there was the Office of Professional Standards, which was disbanded. Now the task force is recommending that IPRA be disbanded too. How do you think the city can avoid falling into that pattern of just renaming agencies?
One way that it can avoid that is by bringing subject matter experts to the table and taking measure of what they recommend as best practices. We certainly looked at best practices across the country, we made a lot of specific findings and recommendations about that as part of the task force report. But it’s not the end of the discussion and it was never intended to be the end of the discussion. We always anticipated that the elected officials who would be drafting legislation would be doing it in concert with a range of different perspectives. It’s very simple to do, but it’s essential that it happens.
Last week, IPRA released hundreds of recordings from open cases of alleged police misconduct, based on the Task Force’s recommendations. Are you satisfied with how that was carried out?
I’m very happy that it happened. I think it’s also historic. We’re the first city in the country that actually has a written policy that by a date certain, this kind of information is going to be put in the public so that folks eventually, hopefully will feel confident that they won’t have to file a FOIA request, or worse, that they don’t have to bring a lawsuit in order to access to information to serious police action.