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Chicago Police Reforms Take Effect Under Consent Decree

Friday marked the deadline for sweeping changes to take effect in the Chicago Police Department under a plan of court-supervised reforms, more than two years after a U.S. Justice Department report found a history of civil rights violations by officers.

Judge Robert Dow approved a consent decree for the department in January, the culmination of a process that started with the release of video in 2015 showing white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. It led to the Justice Department investigation.

Dow said at the time of his approval that the decree is a "vehicle for solving ... common problems ... in a manner that defuses tension, respects differences of opinion."

Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled the 200-plus page decree in July. It addresses everything from police recruitment to using force.

Among the reforms it contained are requirements that officers issue verbal warnings before any use of force and provide life-saving aid after force is used. It also set a 180-day deadline for investigations to be completed by the police department's internal affairs bureau and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and calls for better training and supervision of officers.

A key to the plan is an independent monitor appointed by the judge. The person would ensure that hundreds of changes called for in how police work actually happen and report to the judge on whether the city is hitting reform benchmarks. The judge named former assistant U.S. Attorney Maggie Hickey to be the federal monitor on Friday, and appointed former federal judge David Coar to be special master on the case. 

"It's imperative that we cooperate with the monitor, whomever that person is," CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson said in an interview Friday before Hickey and Coar were named. . 

The oversight would continue until a judge determines the city has fully complied, a process that is likely to take at least several years. The plan would build on some changes the department already has made, such as issuing body cameras to every officer.

"I just want to remind people, don't forget, we started implementing a lot of the things that's contained in the consent decree two years ago," Johnson said. "So in terms of the day-to-day operations of CPD, it won't affect that much at all."

"It's important that we cooperate with the monitor and we have embraced the consent decree because I think that it will make us better when we come out of it," he added. 

Madigan, with Emanuel's support, sued the city last year to ensure court oversight was a central feature of any reform plan. The lawsuit killed a draft plan negotiated with President Donald Trump's administration that didn't envision a court role in reforming the department — a departure from practice during President Barack Obama's administration of using courts to change troubled departments.

Chicago's police union has sharply criticized the legal action, saying the consent decree would make it harder for officers to do their jobs and put officers' lives in danger. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also criticized consent decrees, saying they can unfairly malign good officers.

The damning Justice Department report released in the waning days of the Obama administration in January 2017 found that deep-rooted civil rights abuses permeate Chicago's 12,000-member force, including racial bias, a tendency to use excessive force and a "pervasive cover-up culture."

Madigan acknowledged in July that there had been many attempts over decades to reform the department and the relationship between police and the community. But she expressed confidence this time would be different. Emanuel said in July at that plan would "stand the test of time." He called it "enforceable, sustainable and durable."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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