Chicago police slow to make Justice Department’s recommended reforms

Eight months after the U.S. Department of Justice recommended nearly one hundred reforms for the Chicago Police Department, the city has made progress on less than one-third of them.

The DOJ’s 99 recommendations were included in its highly critical report on CPD, released in January following a year-long investigation that found a widespread pattern of police misconduct in the city.

Using CPD’s public statements and reporting from news organizations, the Chicago Reporter is monitoring progress on the recommended reforms in an online tracker released today.

INTERACTIVE:Monitor Chicago’s police reforms

So far, the city has fully implemented just six of the 99 recommendations and partially implemented 23 others. Twenty-eight recommendations have not been implemented at all. The recommendations cover a range of topics including use-of-force policies, training, community engagement, data collection, and officer wellness.

Christy Lopez, a former DOJ lawyer who worked on the CPD investigation and helped draft the report, noted that “not all requirements [recommendations] are created equal. It can make it less meaningful to say they’ve completed 30 percent of their requirements, if they’ve completed the 30 percent that are easy to accomplish and they haven’t completed the other ones.”

The reforms CPD has implemented thus far include changes to its Field Training program, increased staff for the Bureau of Internal Affairs, creation of a training oversight committee, and increased transparency of merit promotions. The department also revised its use-of-force policies and is in the process of training officers on it, which it says it will complete by October.

Some of the remaining reforms are low-hanging fruit, such as reinstituting regular public reporting on crime trends and policing activities. In October, CPD promised a 2016 annual report by February, but has yet to publish one.

Other recommendations are far more difficult, both to implement and to track. One example: more consistent accountability for officers who file false reports and discipline for supervisors who fail to report misconduct. While Superintendent Eddie Johnson has moved to fire several officers and supervisors for filing false reports to cover up the Laquan McDonald shooting, it may take years to know for sure if accountability for this type of misconduct has increased.

“These processes take a long time in every city,” said Karen Sheley, director of the police practices project for the ACLU of Illinois.

Lack of consent decree makes tracking more difficult

Typically, this many months after a DOJ investigation, the city and DOJ would be well on their way to negotiating a consent decree to enact reforms. But just days after the release of Chicago’s report, President Donald Trump took office. A few weeks later, Jeff Sessions, an outspoken critic of federal intervention in local law enforcement, became attorney general. Negotiations on a consent decree for Chicago—to the extent that there ever were any—stalled completely.

In late August, Mayor Rahm Emanuel backtracked on his months-long stance that the city didn’t need a consent decree and appeared at a press conference with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to announce a “partnership” to work toward one. Madigan had filed a lawsuit against the city, forcing the issue.

It’s likely to take months for negotiations on the decree and the appointment of an independent monitor, who is typically an expert in police reform with a staff, a budget that could reach into the millions  and access to internal documents and records. Independent monitors usually publish regular progress reports.

The Reporter’s tracker, in comparison, is based only on what the city has already made publicly available. For that reason, there are 25 recommendations marked as “unclear,” because the city hasn’t released enough information on them. (The Reporter gave CPD, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and the mayor’s office the opportunity to provide information about the “unclear” recommendations, and to contest the statuses of the other recommendations.)

“It’s going to be impossible for me to say how the city is doing until there is public reporting from an independent monitor,” Sheley said. “Reporters and not-for-profit institutions can do FOIA requests, they can ask questions, but they don’t have the level of access that a monitor would have.”

Until there is an independent monitor in place, the Reporter will continue to update its tracker with available information about CPD’s progress toward reform.