Federal Judge Green-Lights Chicago Police Reforms

CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge approved a final consent decree between Illinois and the Chicago Police Department on Thursday, ensuring court oversight over a department that has been under fire the past few years for brutality, discrimination and lack of accountability.

Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the court for help in 2017 amidst public outcry of CPD practices and several high-profile police shootings making headlines. 

A condemning U.S. Department of Justice investigation into CPD earlier that year found underlying issues of racial discrimination, use excessive force and a lack proper training and accountability for Chicago’s police officers. 

The erosion of public trust in the department over decades eventually led to the federal lawsuit, in which Madigan asked the court to stop CPD “from engaging in a repeated pattern of using excessive force, including deadly force, and other misconduct that disproportionately harms Chicago’s African American and Latino residents.”

The DOJ also backed a court order, saying reforms the department had announced would not likely hold up without it. 

The state and city negotiated the terms of the decree and outlined reform measures over a year and a half, taking comments from various community groups, the police union and the public at large. 

The parties were stuck on whether officers should be required to report every time they point a firearm at someone, settling in favor of that requirement. 

U.S. Circuit Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. signed off on the consent decree Thursday in a 16-page opinion.

“The final decree that the court approves today thus represents the culmination of an enormous undertaking by the parties and the thousands of others who have participated in the wide range of opportunities for community input. The comments generally have favored entry of the decree. Many supporters of the decree think it does not go far enough, but they recognize that there will be opportunities to reshape the decree in the years to come,” the judge wrote.

“The consent decree is not a panacea, nor is it a magic wand,” Judge Dow warned, but added that “while the decree is not perfect, it is an important first step toward needed reforms of the Chicago Police Department and its policies— and, indeed, includes many provisions that the CPD itself welcomes.”

He added, “The decree takes an important step forward in the city of Chicago’s ongoing efforts to repair the damaged relationship between its police department and members of the community whom the department serves and protects.”

The Fraternal Order of Police’s bid to intervene in the case was denied, and the judge also denied its motion to stay approval of the decree pending the union’s appeal. 

The FOP said it worries that provisions in the decree could violate its collective-bargaining agreement and will be an unnecessary burden for officers, saying that reporting each time they point a gun may deter them from reacting appropriately in the field. 

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions also opposed the decree, claiming it would prevent police from doing their job and would cost the city too much money. 

Judge Dow addressed the cost of administering the plan in his opinion, saying if the city had been paying the $2.85 million maximum annual cost for a monitoring team since 1790 – when the first settler arrived at the Chicago River – the total would still not equal what the city has paid out in civil rights litigation since 2004.

“This is a historic day for Chicago and a step towards significant, lasting change. This agreement builds on the strength of the reforms underway at the Chicago Police Department today, ensures there are no U-turns on that road to reform, and will help secure a safer and stronger future for our city. After seven separate attempts at police reform in the last century, Chicago now has an enforceable agreement that will stand the test of time,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a joint release. 

“Today is a new beginning for the Chicago Police Department,” new Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said. “There is a significant amount of work to be done to reform, and I am committed to this important work to make Chicago safer for both residents and police officers.”

The consent decree will go into effect once a monitoring team is appointed by the court, estimated to be no later than March 1. The full document is expected to be released later on Thursday.

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