Critics: Mayor risks failing at police reform if public shut out

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts at Chicago police reforms have failed to involve community input, and the city risks failure if officials do not open the process to outsiders, a group of community leaders warned Wednesday.

The mayor has said he intends to introduce an ordinance later this month to create a new oversight system. But the group on Wednesday released a letter (read it here) telling Emanuel that the process must include more outside input if it is to succeed.

The reform efforts should not “be slowed down,” the letter states, “but proposals that are made and enacted should be the result of an open and collaborative process.” Without a transparent process that includes community members and experts, the letter states, “no ordinance will have any legitimacy.”

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The letter is signed by 13 various officials, including the Cook County Public Defender, two officials of the Chicago Council of Lawyers; and four former members of the Police Accountability Task Force, appointed by Emanuel, which in April issued a report identifying the widespread problems that the city is now trying to address.

At a City Hall press conference attended by several members of the new group, Police Board chair Lori Lightfoot called the mayor’s failure to include outsiders in developing a plan to address the problems documented by the task force a “missed opportunity.” Lightfoot, who also had been appointed by the mayor to chair the task force, added,  “Unfortunately, what we have not seen is a plan or an effort to engage members of the public in a meaningful discussion about these critically important issues.”

Afterward, a spokesman for the mayor issued a statement disputing that the city was developing its reform plan in private. “The entire reform process has been public from the very beginning,” said a statement from Stephen Spector, who noted the task force chaired by Lightfoot held public hearings, as will the City Council after the ordinance sought by Emanuel is introduced.

In response to Spector’s statement, Lightfoot told Injustice Watch that to her knowledge, the mayor has not invited any outsiders to participate in the drafting process for the upcoming ordinance. “We’re talking about real, meaningful community engagement,” Lightfoot said. “It’s not just about having a hearing for the sake of having a hearing.”

Emanuel has said that the proposed ordinance will incorporate three policy changes recommended by the task force: The establishment of a civilian oversight board, the appointment of a public safety inspector general, and the formation of an organization to replace the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).

The mayor appointed the task force last December, amidst a storm of protests that developed after the city released the video of police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting to death Laquan McDonald, 17. The task force, after a series of hearings and investigation, issued a report that found: “Racism and maltreatment at the hands of the police have been consistent complaints from communities of color for decades.”

The report said of fixing the department’s systemic problems, “[R]eal and lasting change is possible only when the people most affected by policing have a voice.”

The new group, the members of which identified themselves as the “Coalition to Follow Up on the Police Accountability Task Force,”  contended that the mayor’s office has not done enough to include the community in its plan to make the changes called for in the report.

Paul Strauss, co-director of litigation for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the mayor should invite public discussion of the proposed ordinance before “the administration’s position is hardened.”

Among those who signed the letter sent to Emanuel on Wednesday were Lightfoot; Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli; Shari Runner, president of the Chicago Urban League; and County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Emanuel last year.