Federal Court Approves Reforms Targeting The Chicago Police Department
from the but-there's-no-federal-backup-to-come-to-the-rescue dept
It’s not much but it’s a start. Chicago’s police force has spent several years vying for the title of “Worst PD in America.” Between its routine deployment of excessive force to its off-the-books “black site” where arrestees are separated from their humanity and their Constitutional rights, the Chicago PD has been a horrific mess for several years.
A federal judge has approved a consent decree that would enact reforms aimed at repairing the trust the PD has damaged for decades.
In a 16-page motion, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow stated that while it’s not perfect, the historic decree is “an important first step toward needed reforms of the Chicago Police Department and its policies.”
“As noted above, the Court is under no illusion that this will be an easy process,” Dow wrote. “It took a long time to get to this place, and it may take a long time to get out of it. With that said, there are good reasons to think that the conditions and incentives may be in place to start making progress right away.
The consent decree contains a long list of reforms that cover everything from enhanced use of de-escalation techniques to breaking the PD’s unofficial “code of silence.” The numerous changes will be overseen by a federal monitor to ensure they’re being followed.
The consent decree was met with the expected resistance from the Chicago PD and its union. A bit more unexpectedly, the consent decree was met with very vocal opposition from the federal government. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly claimed the decree would result in more dead bodies piling up in Chicago, pointing to a single study with questionable findings of increased violent crime following the imposition of consent decrees. Sessions termed this violent crime increase the “ACLU effect,” attempting to portray greater respect for communities and their residents’ Constitutional rights as the flash point of upticks in criminal activity.
The City of Chicago disagreed with Sessions and stated it was uninterested in rolling back the proposed changes. It pointed out the DOJ agreed with the proposed consent decree all the way up until Sessions took office and didn’t see any reason to back out of it just because the new AG was more enthralled with locking people up than respecting their rights.
Opponents of the consent decree claim the city can’t afford to have better cops. In his order [PDF], Judge Dow says this is nonsense.
Other commenters have focused on the financial burden of the decree going forward, as evidenced by the $2.85 million maximum annual budget for the monitoring team. This is a large expenditure of public money by any measure. Yet is is a tiny fraction of what the City has spent paying out judgments and settlements, not to mention lawyers (both outside and inside counsel), for civil rights litigation over the past few decades. See  at 9. Indeed, had a monitoring team been billing the City at the rate of $2.85 million per year since 1790, when Jean Baptiste Point du Sable first set up camp at the mouth of the Chicago River, the total bill of $652.65 million would not equal the City’s litigation-related payouts in civil rights actions since 2004.
Will these changes be sustained and result in better policing in Chicago? That’s tough to say. The people it affects most (police officers) want it the least and, historically, PD brass has been slow to roll out changes and extremely reluctant to hold officers accountable for violating internal policies, much less federally-ordered consent decrees. This time around, the city will have zero support from the DOJ, which, as a matter of policy under this administration, will not act as an enforcer for federal consent decrees or open investigations of law enforcement agencies found to be perpetually violating the rights of the people they’re supposed to be protecting.