CHICAGO (SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department — with support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Madigan and Emanuel announced the news together and promised to seek public input into what a court-enforced consent decree should look like and whom the monitor should be.
“Unfortunately, Chicago has a long history fraught with tragedies followed by failed attempts at reform. The result is broken trust between communities and the police. This makes it much more difficult to prevent and solve crimes,” Madigan said.
“To combat violence and rebuild trust, we need true police reform and accountability. The only way to achieve real. lasting reform is through a consent decree that specifically addresses problems identified in the Justice Department’s report.”
Despite the mayor’s concerns about an open-ended financial commitment from Chicago taxpayers, Madigan said, “It is our goal to have both timelines and financial commitments in the consent decree.”
Emanuel said he agreed to return to the commitment he made in January — after the DOJ issued its scathing indictment of the Police Department following an investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald — because Attorney General Jeff Sessions walked away from any partnership with Chicago.
“The Trump administration rejected the path of a consent decree and approached [Chicago Police] Superintendent [Eddie] Johnson with an alternative framework. But, it became clear they are disinterested in reform. The Trump administration wasn’t even willing to pursue the concept they proposed themselves,” the mayor said.
“After refusals from Washington, the city is entering into a consent decree with the attorney general … I am proud that the Illinois attorney general is standing up for our city, for its residents and for our police officers where the Trump administration fell flat.”
Madigan added: “We are essentially stepping into the shoes of the Department of Justice — shoes that the DOJ has abandoned.”
For months, Emanuel has resisted the idea of court oversight amid concern that it would impose decades of financial pressure on taxpayers similar to what happened with the Shakman decree banning political hiring and firing.
The mayor remains equally concerned about any further damage to rock-bottom police morale that has triggered a 24 percent drop in arrests and an even bigger decline in police stops.
“Reform must be about preparing our officers for the difficult job–not about punishing the force. I will not allow, Eddie [Johnson] will not allow…and I don’t believe the attorney general will allow reform to become an attack on police officers…and the difficult job we have to do,” the mayor said Tuesday.
“We are going to pursue reform with our officers–not to them and not at them.
Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said the mayor and Madigan have been working together for months and the lawsuit filed Tuesday is the culmination of those efforts.
“This isn’t about changing our mind or changing our position. The mayor has been clear since January, 2017 that he intended to work with the Justice Department to negotiate a consent decree,” Siskel said Tuesday.
“The Justice Department made clear over the ensuing months that they were not interested in moving forward with a consent decree and then with a memorandum of agreement that they had discussed with us. Starting back in June, we’ve been in discussions with Lisa Madigan’s office about a potential path forward to achieve real, lasting reform and have found a partner in that effort … that allows us to pursue reform in a way that works with the Police Department rather than imposing something on the Police Department.”
Although Madigan emphasized Tuesday that she has broad power to pursue violations of civil rights, Siskel said the attorney general will not served as the monitor.
“It’ll be an independent third-party with expertise in police reform. It’ll most likely be a team of people with various expertise in police reform,” Siskel said.
“Lisa Madigan’s office and the city and the Police Department will be negotiating the terms of a consent decree, one of which will be the selection and appointment of an independent monitor who will be working with us going forward” after seeking public input.
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot called Madigan’s lawsuit a “significant development,” adding: “I will watch with great interest how the process unfolds from here but I am hopeful for a transparent and inclusive process that, in the end, supports our Police Department and is transformative of the way we do policing in Chicago. This is what’s been needed for some time.”
Earlier this year, lawyers for Black Lives Matter Chicago and other community groups filed a class-action lawsuit seeking federal oversight over the Chicago Police Department.
They accused Emanuel of reneging on his January commitment to negotiate a consent decree and, instead, of attempting to cut a “back-room deal” with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who opposes court oversight over local police departments.
Hours after the lawsuit was filed, Emanuel held a closed-door meeting with Madigan in the mayor’s office on the 5th floor of City Hall.
Madigan was the first to call for a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Police Department that Emanuel initially called “misguided” after the court-ordered release of the video of white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald sixteen times.
Madigan’s decision to take the lead on police reform once again racheted up the political pressure on Emanuel.
After the City Hall meeting, Madigan told the Chicago Sun-Times that Emanuel was “scared” of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department and the decades of financial pressure that would impose on taxpayers.
“They don’t want a 40-year consent decree a la Shakman or the Cook County Jail. They also don’t want a federal judge taking over the city’s already precarious budget. I don’t blame them. I understand those concerns,” Madigan said then.
“I would counter that … a good consent decree that would include clear reforms, benchmarks, tight timetables and a commitment of resources wouldn’t devolve into a 40-year consent decree where a federal judge was determining what resources need to be allocated. If you do the hard work up-front, you don’t have unexpected problems on the back end.”
In spite of those concerns, Madigan said she came away from her meeting with the mayor convinced that Emanuel was open to the possibility of joining forces with Madigan and other police reform advocates in seeking court oversight, even without the DOJ as a willing partner.
“Is the door open? Yes. I think the door is open. I think they recognize that … reform won’t work if the public doesn’t buy into it. And they’re now seeing growing resistance to the way they’re moving forward,” the attorney general said.
“Do I think they’re aware of that? Yes. Do I think they’re willing to be responsive to that? Yes. Do I know how that’s going to turn out? I do not know. [But] they’re willing to have input.”
Now, Emanuel has agreed to work together with Madigan to seek that public input into a process that has, so far, been closed.
In late June, Lightfoot declared the memorandum of agreement drafted by Emanuel in hopes of avoiding federal court oversight of the Chicago Police Department “fundamentally flawed” and said it would “set the Police Department up for failure.
She was among only a handful of people who have seen and studied the 70-page document that Emanuel has forward to the Justice Department but, so far, has refused to release. It was, Lightfoot said, woefully short on specifics.
Lightfoot’s critique was a significant blow to Emanuel for several reasons.
She co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability that served as a prelude to the Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department.
And she was among the few police reform advocates who were willing to give a memorandum of agreement a chance, particularly after the Sessions-led Justice Department “made it very clear that they view consent decrees as antithetical to their relationship with local police.”
There is no specific list of reforms that must be achieved; no deadlines that must be met; no commitment of personnel and funding and no commitment to change a police contract that , Lightfoot has said, “turns the code of silence into official policy.”
Without those specifics, an independent monitor would be “left to wonder what it is he or she should be auditing.” Nor would there be any way to determine whether the Chicago Police Department was in substantial compliance.
Also, Lightfoot said then, there was “no specific commitment … on an annual basis to provide the department with the tens of millions of dollars it’s going to need to actually accomplish reform. … The Chicago Police Department has a small handful. Without additional financial resources and without additional personnel, there is no way the department will be able to accomplish the necessary work.”