CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced changes in the way police-involved shootings and police misconduct cases are handled on Thursday, but drew immediate criticism for stopping short of abolishing the agency that handles those investigations as a task force has urged him to do.
A new position of Public Safety Auditor will be created, the mayor's office said in a news release, and there would be a "role for citizen oversight in police misconduct cases. The release didn't outline any specifics.
The changes stems from last week's report from the mayor-created police accountability task force, which harshly criticized the nation's third largest police force for decades of mistreatment of minorities and a code of silence that protects brutal officers. One of the most dramatic recommendations was to abolish the "badly broken" Independent Police Review Authority — or IPRA — with a new, fully transparent Civilian Police Investigative Agency.
The mayor didn't rule out abolishing IPRA last week or on Thursday, but he also has not foretold the future of an agency that critics say has allowed abusive officers to escape discipline and has become a major reason why many in the community do not trust the police force.
It's disappointing to critics who have watched Emanuel scramble to regain the trust of the city — and some on the police force — since November, when a judge ordered the release of a video Emanuel fought to keep sealed that showed a white officer shooting and killing black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.
"We were hoping for more courage here," Marshall Hatch, a prominent minister on the city's West Side, told The Associated Press in an email. "Between IPRA and the (department's) Bureau of Internal Affairs, investigations of police misconduct is still an internal affair" — not transparent as the mayor has promised.
"Real leadership and courage means doing what needs to be done right now to earn the trust of the community... to save the reputation and future effectiveness of this police force," said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law school professor who played a key role in forcing the city to release the McDonald video.
The fallout from the video led to the Chicago Police Department coming under a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. The mayor's statement said the city will continue to discuss and consult with the DOJ, something Futterman says is a clear indication that the mayor plans to wait until the probe is completed before making more substantive changes.
"These changes have to be made right now (because) people's lives are at stake," he said.
Speeding up the process of investigating police misconduct is among some of the immediate changes coming for the department, addressing concerns expressed by the public as well as members of the City Council that investigations can take several months — leaving officers who are accused of the most serious types of misconduct on the payroll.
Emanuel said reviews of such cases will be completed in no more than 45 days.
The mayor also said the city is now implementing new training for 911 call-takers and dispatchers, who will be subject to "progressive discipline for rude or unprofessional behavior," and that all officers will receive training in recognizing and responding to mental health crisis by the end of the year.
The department already has held public meetings to discuss community-police relations and will push harder to attract recruits from different cultures and races, the release said.
Chicago's new police chief, Eddie Johnson said the department was not waiting for recommendations from the task force or from a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department before making changes.