CHICAGO (CBS) — Critics and supporters of the Chicago Police Department lined up in federal court on Wednesday to tell a federal judge how they believe he should proceed with a proposed consent decree that would oversee sweeping changes for the police force.
At the first of two public hearings on the consent decree negotiated by the Emanuel administration and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, at least 200 people lined up for a chance to weigh in on proposed police reforms.
The hearings were being held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in a large ceremonial courtroom on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Anyone who wanted to speak at the hearings first had to register with the court clerk’s office Wednesday morning, and hope their number was chosen in a lottery. Each speaker is being limited to five minutes.
Anyone who registers but doesn’t get a chance to speak will be allowed to submit written comments on the decree.
The proposed reforms are the result of a 225-page report released by the U.S. Justice Department, following a “pattern and practice investigation” of CPD’s use of force. The scathing report found systemic violations of civil rights, noting officers regularly have used excessive force and discriminated against minorities.
The Justice Department’s report led Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to file a lawsuit seeking court-enforced reforms at CPD. Madigan and the Emanuel administration negotiated a proposed consent decree that spells out new rules for police training, discipline, oversight, and use of force.
The final draft of the consent decree would require use of force policies to be reviewed every year. Officers also would be required to use verbal de-escalation tactics, and would be prohibited from using stun guns when suspects are running away. Officers also would be required to document every time they point their gun at someone.
Once the consent decree is approved, Dow will appoint an independent monitor to oversee the reforms.
The Justice Department probe of CPD was prompted largely by the release of dashboard camera video of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014.
McDonald’s great uncle, Marvin Hunter, was one of those in line hoping to speak.
“I would like to see a more grass roots monitoring component in play, to assure that the people of the city of Chicago can really benefit from this consent decree,” Hunter said.
ACLU attorney Karen Sheley said it’s appropriate for federal courts to step in to make sure there are meaningful changes at the Chicago Police Department to protect the public’s rights.
“The Chicago Police Department has tried self-reform for generations, and has failed. Over and over again, promises have been made, but they haven’t been kept. The promise today will be enforceable in federal court,” she said.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanella said the consent decree should also include guarantee that any suspects in police custody get access to a phone within an hour of their arrest so they can contact a lawyer or relative.
“Think about lawyers at police stations. We stop abuse. We see abuse. We document abuse. I’ve still seen clients, juveniles, who have been hurt in the police station as recently as four months ago; broken finger, black eyes. We’re still seeing that. That is not over,” she said.
Sources said as many as 15 police officers showed up at court to weigh in on the consent decree, and at least four of them were chosen in the lottery. The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police has called the proposed consent decree a sham, and vowed to fight it in court, claiming that requiring officers to file a report every time they point their guns at someone will only make officers hesitate in dangerous situations.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also has filed a brief opposing the decree. He has criticized the plan, calling it a “colossal mstake.”
“Micromanaging the CPD through a federal court order isn’t justified. Really, it’s an insult to the department. We do not need to treat Chicago’s officers like some sort of rogue police department because of the actions of a few,” he said. “Chicago police are not the problem. Chicago police are the solution.”
Legal analysts have said Sessions can’t stop the agreement from moving forward as long as the city and state remain committed to the decree.
“If the city and the state attorney general remain committed to this agreement, the federal government can’t undo it,” Northwestern University Law School professor Sheila Bedi said.