DOWNTOWN — The mayor tried to cast Police Department problems in a historical context Wednesday, but looked ahead to a new chief and findings from a federal probe to provide solutions.
In a news conference at the Harold Washington Library, Mayor Rahm Emanuel time and again emphasized police abuses were "deep-seated" and "go way back."
Referring to fallout from the Laquan McDonald case, he said, "We as a city have come face to face with our history," adding, "This is decades in the making."
Emanuel insisted everything he said in his police reform speech last week was common knowledge, but previously had been said in "hushed tones."
Yet he held out hope that a new police chief and recommendations from a Department of Justice investigation would provide permanent changes for the better.
Emanuel said he had given the Police Board "no directive" in its search for a new superintendent to replace Garry McCarthy. Yet he laid out three tasks for the new chief.
Citing the drop in overall crime over the last four years, he said, "How do we drive that farther rather than plateau?"
He added, "How do we really deal with the gun violence and gang violence in the city?"
Finally, he said the new chief would face the issue of community relations: "How do you lead a cultural and policy change within the Police Department for the legitimization of the Police Department on the outside" with the public?
Acknowledging that Department of Justice investigators had begun meeting with police officials Wednesday, Emanuel added, "I'm going to meet with them so they know the city, the Mayor's Office, as I've said before, we welcome them. They're here. We're gonna fully cooperate with everybody, and it is in our self-interest as a city that they're here."
Emanuel said he expected the federal investigation to produce recommendations on real and lasting changes in the Department.
Asked about statements made in a City Council joint committee hearing Tuesday by Fraternal Order of Police local union President Dean Angelo Sr. that Department morale is at an all-time low, Emanuel said he'd seen otherwise on visits to a handful of districts at roll call over the last several days.
"I have seen an energy and a commitment that's undiminished in the sense of their job," Emanuel said. "But it'd be less than honest to say that events in the city, the whole kind of dialogue in the city, can't but have an impact on officers."
Emanuel said that's why real institutional change was necessary in the Police Department to revive officers' pride in wearing the uniform.
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