Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Tuesday that her office has filed a lawsuit seeking federal court oversight of the Chicago Police Department.
The lawsuit is the latest development in the city’s stalled negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice over police reforms, after the DOJ released the findings of its year-long investigation in January, concluding that CPD was plagued by civil rights violations, including a "pattern and practice" of excessive force and abuse.
Outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch, serving under former President Barack Obama, published the more than 150-page report that called for a sweeping series of reforms to be enforced by a consent decree – meaning compliance with those changes would be overseen by a federal judge, with the power to issue legally-binding court orders.
However, with the shift to President Donald Trump’s administration, current Attorney General Jeff Sessions has demonstrated reluctance to enter such an agreement, expressing concern shortly after his swearing-in that civil rights investigations like the one conducted in Chicago do not help police departments, but rather serve to “diminish their effectiveness” in combatting crime.
“The new administration at the Department of Justice has made it clear it will no longer seek a consent decree in Chicago,” Madigan said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit alongside Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
After “weeks of discussions,” Madigan said they “agreed that meaningful and sustainable reform requires an enforceable consent decree, community input, and an independent monitor to ensure that reforms are implemented.”
“In the absence of a committed Justice Department, my office will seek the reforms and support police officers need to implement safe and constitutional policing practices,” she continued.
The 35-page lawsuit, filed in federal court against the City of Chicago, will serve as a first step for the Illinois Attorney General’s office to step into the role of a de facto Justice Department, Madigan said.
"Today is not an endpoint," Emanuel said, just one day after a Chicago police officer was convicted in federal court of excessive use of force. "It is not a destination on our road to reform. It is a pathway to a proactive, professional police department and improved public safety benefits."
Stakeholders have not yet begun to negotiate terms of the consent decree, Madigan added, like the city's financial commitment or a timetable.
However, she expressed that meaningful reform for the department would require both community input and an independent monitor who would oversee the day-to-day implementation and report back to the court.
Sessions has maintained that consent decrees undermine police officers and prevent them from effectively performing their duties – a claim that Madigan directly refuted.
“Over the years, police officers committed to reducing violence haven’t gotten the training, resources and support they need to do their job safely and properly, yet they bear the brunt of the public’s anger over policing,” she said. “Black and brown residents of the city live in fear of criminals and the police. Meanwhile, more than half a billion taxpayer dollars have been used to pay for the consequences of unlawful policing over the past decade. If Chicago is going to remain a city that people choose to live in and raise their families, this has to change.”
“The city has to support police officers in communities, the police have to support communities, and communities have to support the police. Without those relationships working well, we won’t have safe communities in Chicago,” she continued. “Achieving community safety is complex, but addressing violence and implementing reforms are complementary, not contradictory goals.”