Chicago’s Top Cop Promises Police Reform Even If Justice Department Doesn’t Pressure Him

With the Trump administration signaling an aversion to federally-mandated reforms of local police forces, the Chicago Police Department’s top cop on Tuesday said that he is moving forward with an ambitious agenda to boost training and accountability of one of the nation’s largest police departments.

Superintendent Eddie Johnson outlined plans to bolster community policing, implement a field training officer program for new cops, revise the department’s use of force policy and other changes in the months ahead.

The latest push by Chicago to improve training and accountability of the embattled department comes as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suggested that the Justice Department under his watch may shy away from the frequently used Obama administration practice of suing local police departments to force reforms related to violations of excessive force policies, racial discrimination and other misconduct.

“What’s necessary is reform…and to that end we are going to do it,” said Johnson, whose comments came as the department released a document entitled the Next Steps for Reform. “CPD is different than it was at this time last year. We don’t need a piece of paper to ensure that we’re doing it.”

The department’s brass and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been pressing to win back the trust of large swaths of Chicago in the aftermath of the court-release in November 2015 of chilling police video that showed a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, fire 16 shots at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald as he appeared to be running away from police during a pursuit. Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder, is awaiting trial.

The video—which came after decades of simmering mistrust and allegations of police brutality and misconduct in some of Chicago’s predominantly minority neighborhoods—also lead to widespread public outrage and weeks of protests in the city. The public backlash lead to the Obama Justice Department launching a year-long probe of Chicago police’s pattern and practices.

In the final days of the Obama administration, the Justice Department issued a scathing report, which found the Chicago Police force is beset by widespread racial bias, excessive use of force, poor training and feckless oversight of officers accused of misconduct. The Justice Department and the city of Chicago also issued “a statement of agreement” to find remedies to improve policing in the nation’s third-largest city and repair a shattered public trust.

But the comments from new attorney general, Sessions, has raised doubts about DOJ finalizing negotiations of a consent decree, which would require independent monitoring to certify Chicago is taking agreed upon steps to solve problems within the department.

“Somehow, someway, we’ve undermined respect for police and made — often times — their job more difficult,” Sessions said in a speech soon after being confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement officer last month. “We need to help police officers get better rather than reduce their effectiveness, and I’m afraid we’ve done some of that. So, we’re going to pull back a little on this. I don’t think that it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights. I think it’s out of concern to make the lives of those, especially in poorer communities and minority communities, live a safer, happier life.”

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Source: USA Today | Aamer Madhani