Chicago police officers would be encouraged to avoid arresting people over minor offenses and would need permission from supervisors to make arrests related to “quality of life” offenses under a proposal by activist groups involved in the litigation over potential reforms to the troubled Police Department.
On Tuesday morning, the groups — which include the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Black Lives Matter Chicago — released their first organized responses to the proposed court agreement Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan introduced last month.
The criticisms are an attempt to influence the draft of the consent decree before it is submitted to a federal judge, which is expected to happen by early September. The activist organizations, the Emanuel administration and Madigan’s office are still wrangling over details of a potential court order that would eventually serve as a judicially enforceable mandate governing how officers use force and how they will be held accountable, among other issues.
The groups proposed that the department be required to create a policy that encourages officers to use the “least intrusive response appropriate under the circumstances as reasonably understood by the officer at the time” in dealing with minor offenses. The suggested policy would encourage police to give warnings or divert people to “mediation or public health program(s)” rather than citing or locking them up. For a number of offenses, a supervisor would need to approve the arrest “unless not practicable under the circumstances.” Those crimes, described as “quality of life offenses” by the groups, range from gambling to prostitution to obstructing, resisting or assaulting a police officer.
The activist groups also want the department to be forced to enact a policy on foot pursuits, which have often led to shootings and other uses of force. The consent decree proposed by Emanuel and Madigan leaves room for the creation of a policy but does not mandate it.
And the groups want officers to report every incident in which they point a Taser or a gun at a person, or even draw their firearms. The question of whether the department will have to report instances in which cops aim guns at people has been a sticking point between Madigan’s office and the Emanuel administration. Madigan’s office wants the incidents reported, and city officials apparently do not.
The potential consent decree would be one of the most substantive consequences of the scandal sparked in late 2015 by the release of video of Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke is scheduled to stand trial on murder charges next month.
The video touched off heated protests and led to an investigation of the police force by the U.S. Department of Justice. That inquiry led to a January 2017 report that described a broken Police Department in which badly trained police officers have engaged in brutality and misconduct with little fear of consequences.
Emanuel voiced support for a consent decree in the final days of the Obama presidency, but the Trump administration has shown no interest in intervening in local police agencies, and the mayor last summer pulled back on his support for reforms overseen by the courts. Emanuel argued he could reform the department through an out-of-court agreement with the Trump administration, but activists and former Justice Department lawyers criticized that idea, voicing doubt that lasting change would come without a judge to impose it.
In August 2017, Madigan sued the city to force a consent decree, and Emanuel said he would negotiate. Groups including Black Lives Matter Chicago and the ACLU of Illinois, meanwhile, brought lawsuits seeking to compel changes. The Emanuel administration and Madigan’s office reached a deal in court giving those activist groups a role in creating and enforcing a consent decree.
The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police has cast the consent decree as part of a “war on the police” and argued Madigan’s lawsuit is not legal. The union has sought to intervene in the case, but a judge has yet to rule on that.
The proposed consent decree includes changes to the way officers deal with people suffering from mental health problems, but the activist groups argued Tuesday that the proposal doesn’t include enough changes. The groups want certified crisis intervention officers to respond to all calls involving people experiencing mental health issues. The groups also want the city to create a “behavioral health unit” that will allow civilians to intervene in crises and route people with mental health issues away from the justice system.
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