Yes, It’s Difficult To Change Cop Culture, But Let’s Not Pretend It’s Too Expensive Or Impossible To Achieve Quickly
from the you-have-to-want-to-do-it dept
The US Department of Justice has entered into many consent decrees with many, many abusive law enforcement agencies. These decrees have the force of law, supported by court orders. They’re contractual obligations with the federal government — agreements that swear local agencies will comply with directives and do their part to respect not only the Constitution, but the people they’re supposed to be serving.
While the directives may be clear, compliance is often muddled and less than enthusiastic. Taxpayers want swift compliance and comprehensive overhauls of broken policing systems. What they get instead is years of foot-dragging, expensive litigation, and years passing before any incremental change can actually be observed.
Los Angeles took 12 years to meet the requirements of a 2001 consent decree and Detroit took 13 years. The average for cities to comply with such court orders is about 10 years, according to Chicago officials.
Could this take less time? Absolutely. But those being asked to change don’t have their hearts in it. They’re overly concerned about losing officers who feel being asked to comply with the Constitution is an unfair job requirement. They’re stymied by restrictive police union contracts that make it almost impossible to institute meaningful reforms or discipline plans. They’re also coddled by lawmakers who still believe — despite all evidence to the contrary — that law enforcement agencies should be given more discretion when it comes to pretty much everything, ranging from force deployment to discipline of misbehaving officers.
To be sure, the larger the police department is (and the two listed above are some of the nation’s largest), the more difficult it will be to achieve full compliance with consent decrees. But the city of Chicago is using data points to explain away its inability to move forward with the requirements of a consent decree put in place in 2019, prompted by the killing of Laquan McDonald by since-convicted officer Jason Van Dyke — an officer whose lies about this killing were exposed by cruiser dashcam recordings.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has asked for more time to comply with the consent decree. And she has secured it. The Chicago PD — a notorious abuser of civil and human rights — will get three more years to get its shit together, which means it won’t have to be fully compliant for another eight years. The mayor of the city is also highlighting the cost of compliance, which is a pretty disingenuous move.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the extension Friday, saying the previous timeframe was “unrealistic” for massive changes she expects will have a price tag of at least $50 million.
$50 million is nothing. The Chicago PD’s budget is second only to the NYPD’s. According to this report, Chicago’s police department will have $1.9 billion to use in 2022. And that’s just what’s budgeted. It’s not like it’s uncommon for government agencies to exceed their budgets. That amount is 2.63% of the PD’s annual budget. This is spending that needs to happen. It’s also spending that won’t be missed.
Mayor Lightfoot is using other cities’ failure to rein in their police departments as an excuse for her presumptive failure to do the same.
“Five years was just never realistic,” Lightfoot said Friday in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “You know, most of these, it’s 10 or 12. And frankly, there’s some cities that had to do it twice, like Cleveland, New Orleans.
Rather than demand speedy compliance and move forward with tough policies that would help ensure a quick turnaround, Lightfoot is asking for extensions and setting the bar low enough the Chicago PD may actually be able to clear it without breaking a sweat. This is an abdication of her duties as the leader of the city. It also means she’ll be able to take partial credit for whatever minimal compliance actually occurs during her tenure as mayor.
Fuck that. Chicago deserves better than a mayor making excuses for future non-compliance. It also deserves better than the supposed leadership of the police department, which is apparently fine with slow-walking compliance while hoovering up additional tax dollars meant to drastically change how the PD operates. This is some expensive mediocrity. And it will do nothing to hasten sorely needed reforms of a law enforcement agency that has spent decades going rogue.