Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday that allowing an independent federal monitor to oversee the Chicago Police Department is “exactly the right way” to achieve reform, but some experts said that route will not be enough on its own.
The Emanuel administration and the Justice Department are negotiating the “memorandum of agreement,” which includes a framework for adopting and implementing reforms that federal officials said were needed in the police department, according to a source in the Emanuel administration.
The agreement, which still needs to be approved by the Justice Department, would include the appointment an independent monitor to oversee those reforms, the source said. But reform advocates had hoped for a federal consent decree, which would have given the court the power of enforcement, which they argue is stronger than a monitor.
Emanuel defended the memorandum of agreement during an unrelated Monday press conference. “There are many roads to reform, but they all hit the same destination,” Emanuel said.
The agreement comes more than four months after the Justice Department released a blistering report that found the police department used “unreasonable” deadly force against suspects who presented no immediate threat.
Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, said historically such an agreement is not “robust enough” to remedy longstanding problems.
“Given the size of the Chicago Police Department, and the severity of the accountability and use of force problems that were thoroughly documented in the findings report, a memorandum of agreement in this matter will become yet another set of recommendations for the Chicago Police Department that will have no teeth,” Gupta said. “Chicago has seen this pattern over and over again.”
The original report was drafted under the Obama administration, and Emanuel initially agreed to discuss a consent decree. But the new head of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions, has since been vocal about his dislike of consent decrees to oversee police departments and was considered unlikely to enter into such an agreement with the city.
Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago, said no matter how strong the memorandum of agreement, there is still the problem of enforcement.
“The only person who would have ability to enforce something would be Jefferson Sessions. So you are basically saying trust us,” Futterman said. “Trust Jefferson Sessions, someone who has a longstanding, demonstrated, hostility to civil rights of African-Americans and to any notion of federal oversight over Chicago Police Department.”
Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board, criticized the mayor on Monday for not getting more input from stakeholders. She said that no one, including the Mayor’s office, should have unilateral control over decisions about police reform.
“No agreement with Department of Justice will have any legitimacy in Chicago, if people in Chicago outside mayor’s office are not consulted and engaged, substantively before any such agreement is finalized,” said Lightfoot. “That is critical.”
Lightfoot, who said she had yet to see a draft of the agreement, said three elements will be essential: legitimacy, transparency and enforceability.
But Lightfoot also conceded that a consent decree was unlikely under the Trump administration.
“So the possibility that there would still be some kind of agreement with them as a party has some promise,” Lightfoot said.
Shannon Heffernan reports on criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h.