IV. Police Misconduct
In August of 2017, the current Illinois Attorney General sued the City of Chicago, contending that reforms by the city are not sufficient to prevent the Chicago Police Department from continuing a pattern of excessive and deadly force that disproportionately hurts African Americans and Latinos.
Statewide, in the limited circumstances when a law enforcement officer uses excessive and deadly force and needs to be brought to justice, local state’s attorneys find themselves in a difficult situation of having to prosecute members of the same local police department or agency that they rely on to serve as the investigators and witnesses in the overwhelming majority of their cases. While state’s attorney’s offices all across the state are willing to take on this task, it is certainly not an optimal situation and can produce, or be perceived to produce, poor results.
The Illinois Criminal Code grants the Attorney General the power to assist or preside over the trial of any person charged with a crime in Illinois. How would you direct your office to participate in current Attorney General’s lawsuit against the city on police reform? Do you support a consent decree?
Do recent personnel changes within the Chicago Police Department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability or the introduction of the new Attorney General website on the consent decree affect your opinion on the need to reform?
I would maintain the Attorney General’s role as Plaintiff in the case and support a consent decree. Measures that should be included in the consent decree include: adoption of additional officer training methods for avoiding the unnecessary use of force; collection, analysis and publishing of additional data regarding policing efforts; enhancement of the Employee Assistance program to better enable officers to address issues of post traumatic stress disorder, mental health and wellness; and implementation of specific community policing goals and timelines for achieving them. The oversight of a federal judge and the appointment of an independent monitor will help ensure that the relevant stakeholders are represented, help minimize the influence of political interests, and help create a structured process and timeline for instituting necessary reforms. While the entry of a consent decree will not be a panacea, it will offer a constructive way forward in reforming the Chicago Police Department, protecting Chicagoans’ safety and security, enhancing community policing efforts, equipping police officers with the tools necessary to meet their responsibilities, and upholding Constitutional rights and civil liberties.
While it has been encouraging to see some reforms instituted following the release of the Department of Justice’s Report, the consent decree is still needed in order to ensure that such reforms are binding and to set benchmarks and timelines for the adoption and implementation of additional necessary reforms.
In sensitive cases of excessive and deadly force, it is appropriate for a special prosecutor to be appointed if the local state’s attorney has a conflict of interest (or a perception thereof exists) or if more widespread or systemic misconduct is suspected in connection with the case. The Judge should have the discretion to appoint the special prosecutor he or she believes will have the independence and credibility necessary to gain the public’s trust in a fair outcome, and potential special prosecutors should not be limited to prosecutors within the Attorney General’s Office, as the widest net possible should be cast.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan consulted with me prior to filing the suit based on my history of advocating for law enforcement reform.
I strongly support a consent decree and will continue the lawsuit as long as it remains the most effective way of obtaining a strong, enforceable consent decree that holds the Chicago Police Department’s feet to the fire so that genuine, systemic change occurs at CPD. I am deeply disappointed that after the Department of Justice conducted an investigation that clearly identified problematic practices within CPD, the DOJ’s new leadership under the current administration chose to ignore the evidence – in Chicago and other cities – and chose not to work with the police department, the City and, most importantly, members of the communities being policed to promote the appropriate use of force and effective, fair policing. In the absence of substantive DOJ involvement, I believe this lawsuit can produce a consent decree that, in conjunction with recent legislative reforms I sponsored, pushes CPD to adopt reforms that prevent future Laquan McDonalds from falling victim to the consequences of poor training and discipline in law enforcement.
The measures taken by CPD and COPA are a long way from the finish line. While these personnel changes, partnerships to effect the consent decree and attempts to be more forthright with the community are all welcome, it has become clear that long-term, properly enforced reform is necessary and that we cannot rely on particular individuals or periods of goodwill, but rather must continue pushing to change the pervasive culture and practices of CPD. Such efforts must be more inclusive of affected communities.
The law enforcement reform act I sponsored in 2015 established that the court or any interested party may file a motion alleging that the State’s Attorney has a conflict of interest in any civil or criminal proceeding. Previously, only the court was allowed to replace the State’s Attorney due to his or her interest in the matter before the court. This expands the opportunity for a member of the public with a legal interest in a proceeding related to an officer-involved death to make the case to the judge that the State’s Attorney ought not to prosecute or represent the State due to a conflict. I am open to the involvement of prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General, but only if sufficient appropriations are available to ensure the presence of staff attorneys adequately trained to handle these sensitive and often highly specialized cases that are of great significance to the communities affected.
The Attorney General’s office also can utilize its Civil Rights Bureau/Unit to pursue civil rights violations that have come at the hand of law enforcement.