A week after a task force assembled by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) released a scathing report pillorying his police department, the city is making a series of changes aimed at reforming the force.
Emanuel and Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent, said Thursday that the department would beef up investigations into misconduct, establish penalties for those officers found to have engaged in misconduct, and speed up internal inquiries.
They described these and other measures as steps needed to improve accountability and trust between the police and Chicago residents, which they called part of an ongoing effort toward reforming the department.
“Trust is at the heart of good policing, safe communities and is the central challenge facing Chicago today,” Johnson said in a statement. “These reforms are a down payment on restoring that trust, and build on the important progress we’ve made in recent months.”
Many of the changes announced Thursday focus on accountability, which the task force had said was effectively absent in the department. The police will set up an “early intervention system,” which the task force recommended to help deal with issues as early as possible; train specific officers to conduct internal probes; and work with other city agencies to review complaints as well as officers’ histories and, when needed, discipline “officers with histories of excessive force.”
Some of the things they announced are building on recent actions and announcements. Johnson has been holding meetings with community members to discuss improving relationships between officers and residents, something he will keep doing, while the police will continue with plans to roll out more Tasers and body cameras. The city also says it will improve training for 911 operators and dispatchers.
While Emanuel adopted many of the recommendations the task force made last week — his office said he was immediately implementing nearly a third of the group’s suggestions — the changes Thursday left key issues raised by the report for the future.
The task force had described the Independent Police Review Authority, which is meant to investigate misconduct on the police force, as “badly broken” and said it should be scrapped and replaced with a new civilian agency.
However, the changes announced by Emanuel said that, for now, this authority will remain in place, though it will adopt clearer penalties for misconduct and seek to form a board of community members. And Emanuel did not discuss whether the city would create an inspector general for public safety, as the task force suggested last week.
Lingering over all of this is the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the Chicago police force, the second-biggest local law enforcement agency in the country. This ongoing probe is looking at whether the department violated the Constitution or federal law.
Emanuel said the city had spoken with the Justice Department about the task force’s recommendations for increased independent oversight of the police, talks that he said would continue while the city works to create a system for police discipline.
While the Justice Department would likely acknowledge in its report reforms the city makes during the investigation, these changes may not make a big difference to the conclusions reached by the federal inquiry, according to an official familiar with the investigation.
These probes are parallel but “definitely different,” and the Justice Department will ultimately cover more ground and touch on more things, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing investigation.
The Justice Department’s investigation and the task force’s report both date back to late last year, when the city’s police department came under intense criticism after video footage was released showing a white Chicago police officer firing 16 bullets at Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.
This shooting occurred in October 2014, but the video was not released for more than a year as city officials fought efforts to let people see the footage. In the interim, an ongoing debate over how police use deadly force continued to sweep the country, with heated protests becoming a recurring sight in New York, Baltimore and other cities.
After the McDonald video was released, Emanuel dismissed his police superintendent and announced that he was forming the task force to improve independent oversight of the Chicago police. The Justice Department announced its investigation days later, and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said last week that the federal probe is ongoing and investigators are meeting with community members.
Last week, the task force released its report, which concluded that the police department’s own data backs up the contention from residents that “police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” It recited a series of statistics showing that black people in Chicago made up a disproportionate number of the people fatally shot by police, hit with police Tasers and stopped while driving or walking.
The task force’s recommendations came at a pivotal moment for both the city and its police department. As the federal government investigation continues, the police force is also facing declining morale and increasing violence. Johnson, a Chicago native, was officially confirmed as superintendent last week by aldermen who told him he was the man to help a city “clearly in need of healing.”
On Thursday, Emanuel said in a statement that the initial changes made in response to the task force’s recommendations were meant to help find ways to restore trust in Chicago.
“As a city, we cannot rest until we fully address the systemic issues facing the Chicago Police Department, and the steps announced today build on our road to reform,” Emanuel said.