by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Nearly eight months into a consent decree governing sweeping changes at the Chicago Police Department, the city’s top watchdog said “baby steps are being made on a lot of fronts” in implementing the court-ordered reforms.
“I can tell you there is a mindfulness right now about not overwhelming the department, and setting expectations that would doom the department to failure, but at the same time pushing the department very hard for undertaking initiatives and reforms in major areas,” Inspector General Joseph Ferguson told aldermen during a budget hearing at City Hall on Thursday.
Ferguson’s office has been assisting consent decree monitor Megan Hickey with scrutinizing the Chicago Police Department’s efforts to overhaul its policies and practices in order to reduce cases of misconduct, excessive force, and racial discrimination.
A scathing Justice Department report in 2016 found systemic abuses by the Chicago Police Department against minorities, including officers routinely using excessive force against African Americans and Hispanics.
The Justice Department report called for the courts to oversee changes to the department’s policies and practices. When the Trump administration balked at the idea of a consent decree, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department and hammered out a deal with the city.
In March, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow appointed Hickey to oversee the implementation of the reforms, two months after approving a final draft of the consent decree.
Among other changes, the consent decree would require the department to review use of force policies every year, track foot pursuits and document every time an officer points a gun at someone. Anonymous complaints against officers must be investigated; and officers would be prohibited from using stun guns when suspects are running away, or from firing their guns at moving vehicles.
Use of force training and training on verbal de-escalation tactics would be expanded.
The decree also requires the city and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to more closely track complaints against officers and allow the public to track complaints online by next year.
Ferguson said one of the hurdles to making the necessary reforms at CPD has proved to be the department’s data management.
“One of the challenges that CPD has and certainly has had is the quality of its data, and the management and administration of its data,” Ferguson said.
However, Ferguson said both CPD and Hickey have made improving data management a point of emphasis.
Meantime, Ferguson told aldermen his office expects to issue a new report in a month or two regarding CPD’s progress on reducing overtime costs.
In 2017, an inspector general investigation concluded CPD had failed to closely monitor the way it handles officer overtime, and said the lack of oversight left the department vulnerable to “potentially abusive practices” as officers accrue overtime.
The report found the department paid out millions of dollars to overtime to officers who failed to get proper approval, or who even approved their own overtime payments.
Beyond the financial cost, the report raised concerns about excessive overtime leading to officer fatigue.
At the time of the report, overtime costs were approaching $200 million a year. Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said then that the department was working to improve its timekeeping system, and was in the midst of hiring hundreds of new officers.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said the city can’t afford its current police overtime costs, and has directed Johnson to come up with a plan to fix the problem. According to published reports, overtime at CPD totaled nearly $68 million in the first six months of the year.
Ferguson did not offer any insight into what his upcoming report on police overtime would reveal, joking that his staff was “cringing” for even putting a timeline on when the new report is expected to be released.
“That is a work in progress,” Ferguson said.