By Dan Hinkel Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — On the last day to submit written comments on a proposed court order to reform the Chicago Police Department, activist groups sought changes forcing officers to be more accommodating to the families of people they shoot, while U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he opposed the idea of a consent decree, period.
Sessions and his assistants submitted an 11-page statement Friday painting the proposal as an overly restrictive measure that could lead to increased crime. The comment repeated Session’s allegation that the city’s 2015 agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which forced officers to document street stops more thoroughly, led to a roughly 60 percent jump in homicides in 2016.
The attorney general lauded the steps local officials including Mayor Rahm Emanuel have taken to reform the department and argued that the city and state governments — not a federal judge — should control the force’s future.
“The United States asks the Court not to enter the proposed consent decree but, rather, to allow state and local officials — and Chicago’s brave front-line police officers — to engage in flexible and localized efforts to advance the goal of safe, effective, and constitutional policing in Chicago,” the statement said.
Sessions also said the Department of Justice would send five additional prosecutors to Chicago to establish a “gun crimes prosecution team,” among other anti-crime measures.
Emanuel spokesman Matt McGrath welcomed the extra federal resources but blasted Sessions for trying to “impede our public safety reforms or inhibit our efforts to rebuild the bonds of trust between officers and residents.”
ACLU of Illinois officials accused Sessions of making a “last-minute political play” to undermine the consent decree.
“The Trump administration and Sessions’ Department of Justice have never attempted to learn about the problems in Chicago or what reform is necessary,” ACLU of Illinois attorney Karen Sheley said in a statement.
Sessions’ perspective on the consent decree dovetails with that of the union that represents rank-and-file officers, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. The union has sought — unsuccessfully, thus far — to have the litigation that gave rise to the consent decree dismissed. On Friday afternoon, attorneys for the union filed a 54-page comment alleging that broad swaths of the consent decree violate the union’s contract or collective bargaining rights and should not be included in the final order.
Meanwhile, lawyers for activist groups including Black Lives Matter Chicago filed a comment stretching some 80 pages that seeks, among other things, protections and services for victims of police misconduct and the families of people killed by police. The activist groups want the consent decree to order police to allow families access to their dead loved ones after shootings and ensure that bodies are removed from scenes promptly. The groups also want the city to provide “trauma-informed psycho-social support services for survivors of police violence and the families of both victims and survivors of police violence.”
The activist groups reinforced their point with statements from family members of people shot by the police, some of whom alleged that officers were unhelpful or rude in the aftermath — with more than one alleging that cops laughed at them.
Martinez Sutton wrote that police gave him little information beyond a hospital address after Officer Dante Servin shot Sutton’s sister, Rekia Boyd, to death in 2012. Servin, who has resigned, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
Sutton briefly described being pulled over by police after the trial and how another passing officer chuckled and said, “That’s the guy whose sister got shot in the head.” Sutton, who said he grew depressed and withdrawn after the shooting, lamented the lack of city services for people struggling with a loved one’s killing by police.
“I started losing track of time, days, hours, and I had to drop classes in school because I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t hold a job, I just had to survive on my own,” he wrote.
An eventual consent decree would likely be one of the most significant and lasting effects of the police reform push that coalesced three years ago after the release of video footage in which Officer Jason Van Dyke shot teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke was convicted this month of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.
The November 2015 video release spurred furious protests among African-Americans with long-standing complaints about their treatment by police, as well as calls for a federal investigation of the department.
That investigation culminated in January 2017 with a report that described the Chicago police as badly trained, largely unaccountable and prone to needless violence. In the last days of an Obama administration that often intervened in local police forces, Emanuel vowed to work toward a consent decree.
But President Donald Trump appointed Sessions attorney general, and Sessions has repeatedly criticized federal intervention in local law enforcement. Emanuel responded to the lack of federal pressure for court-mandated reform by proposing an out-of-court agreement, but advocates objected.
Last year, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the city and Emanuel agreed to work toward a consent decree. The city was also sued by activist groups, and the politicians worked out a deal to allow the groups a role in the litigation.
The proposed decree would mandate comprehensive changes to departmental practices and aim to tighten supervision, improve training and fix the city’s police disciplinary system.
At the end of the month, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. is slated to hold hearings to take public comments on the proposed decree. Dow holds the authority to eventually enact and enforce the decree.
One crucial unanswered question is who will be appointed to monitor the changes. Madigan’s office plans to announce in coming days the finalists chosen from nine teams that applied to monitor reforms in the coming years.