CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is promising new reforms to rebuild the trust in the community, and strengthen police training.
But at the same time, the Illinois Attorney General’s office is blasting the city for not meeting the deadlines imposed in a consent decree imposed on the department, again.
Joining CBS 2’s Jim Williams and Brad Edwards Monday was Craig Futterman, a civil rights attorney and professor of law at the University of Chicago specializing in police accountability.
A scathing Justice Department report in 2016 had 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, then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department and hammered out a deal with the city.
Among other changes, the consent decree requires 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 are 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 were also to be expanded.
In the first report to the monitors for the decree in November, the city had missed more than half its deadlines to implement the rules. The same was true just last week.
“What we’ve seen is a pattern of foot-dragging and delaying on behalf of the city. Sadly even with the change in administration, we haven’t seen a fundamental change in orientation toward the decree. It’s still more about kicking and screaming as opposed to, ‘How do we embrace the decree to do better?’ Indeed, they haven’t just missed 50 percent, but they missed more than about three quarters of the deadlines,” Futterman said.
He said the issue goes beyond the deadlines for putting in place the specific policies outlined in the consent decree – and also pertains to current events such as how police handled protests and protesters.
Part of what we’ve been seeing; what we’ve been monitoring as recently as last weekend was we’ve heard reports of nearly 300 instances – just in the last weekend alone – of egregious abuse and people protesting – and protesting peacefully – between broken bones, physical abuse, including holding people – and actually as a standard practice over the weekend – holding people who were protesting incommunicado in police stations without access to anyone – basically disappearing folks for a while,” Futterman said.
He said the city has “a long way to go,” and contrary to what Mayor Lightfoot has claimed, adherence to the consent decree is not moving fast enough. Whether that changes is completely within the control of the mayor and the Police Department, he said.
In a cable news appearance Sunday night, Mayor Lightfoot said she was planning to announce “monumental reforms” to the Police Department in the near-term future. Futterman said such undertaking effort would be easier said than done.
“It’s not going to happen unless the people of Chicago make it happen, and I think that’s just the consistent lesson that we’ve learned over the years, that the Police Department is seen as just being incapable of just ending these patterns of practices of civil rights violations on their own, and the change happens when people make it happen,” he said.
But Futterman said he has some hope – brought on in part, strangely enough, by the halt to activity forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I do think that this can change, and one of the things that gives me great hope is really the number of people sustained in lifting their voices in protest right now in the street, trying to put this spotlight on these systemic racial abuse in Chicago and forcing that change. And one other thing that also that in an odd way gives me hope – the pandemic, in an odd way, has forced us to stop. And up until about a week ago, it forced us to stop not just a lot of the good things that we miss, but some of the bad things too, and we did stop the number of times that police – that Chicago Police were just stopping people, harassing people, arresting folks, and this forced stop has actually given us an opportunity – an opportunity because you’ve got to stop before you change directions,” he said.
Futterman went on: “It’s given us a real opportunity to change directions, and probably the most important thing that the Chicago Police Department can do is to simply quit it. Stop arresting, brutalizing, killing so many black folks. That would be the most important thing, and we’re seeing that there’s a way to make that happen.”
Meanwhile, many activists have called for the defunding of police departments, and some jurisdictions have vowed to do it – though Mayor Lightfoot has said she does not support it.
Edwards asked Futterman if defunding the police was the right move given that a broken system would take money to fix. Futterman said the point is that the some of the funds now used on police departments could be better directed elsewhere in a system that is not working.
“One, you don’t want to throw good money after bad, so to speak, and scholars and people for years have been talking about more effective ways to address violence is actually taking some money out of police and prisons and going and putting it into prevention – and stopping. That is far more effective – you create jobs, education, safety nets, social services – far more effective at affecting and preventing violence than dealing with it on the back end, and simply throwing folks into jail and locking up more people, just simply hasn’t worked,” Futterman said.
Further, Futterman added, even police officers themselves complain that they are asked to do things that should not be part of their jobs.
“And the other thing is the funding is also just not such a controversial thing. I mean, police officers, when you think about it, have been asked to do so many things. They’d be the first to tell you that, ‘We’re being asked to do things we shouldn’t be doing.’ Police officers shouldn’t be the first place we go in terms of the answer to all the problems. People who have mental illness and are experiencing crisis – are police the first people we should call? When people are suffering from drug addiction, or there are conflicts between neighbors, et cetera, there are far more effective ways than putting more than more money to police,” he said.
Arrests and use of force can be appropriate in some instances, but can actually be counterproductive when it comes to solving issues with violence, Futterman said.
“I think the defunding of police, or defunding aspects of the police, is an important conversation to have,” he said.