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Time For Police To Accept, Account For Racist Practices, Task Force Says

By  Kelly Bauer and Joe Ward | April 13, 2016 2:20pm 

 Activists protest at a Police Accountability Task Force meeting.
Activists protest at a Police Accountability Task Force meeting.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

DOWNTOWN — It's time for the Chicago Police Department to face "hard truths" and acknowledge its issues with systemic and historical racism if it is to better its standing with the black community, the head of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force said Wednesday.

The task force on Wednesday released its recommendations for police reform in a damning report that claims racism has been institutionalized in the department and called on department officials to end a "code of silence."

"It is essential that the police department take responsibility for the way in which it polices and the way in which it has in many instances alienated people of color," said Lori Lightfoot, chairwoman of the Police Accountability Task Force. "It is something that has to be understood, it has to be accepted if we are ever to move forward in a positive direction."

The task force laid out a number of proposals for the department and the city, including the dismantling and replacing of the Independent Police Review Authority, a mayor-appointed board which is currently tasked with investigating police uses of lethal force and complaints against officers.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the task force in December, on the same day he fired Garry McCarthy as the Chicago Police superintendent.

The moves were made in large part because of the fallout over the Laquan McDonald killing. Lightfoot said McDonald's killing informed their work, but that racist practices in the department existed long before that.

"In our mind, the issues of police and race ... those issues go back decades," she said at a press conference at Harold Washington Library Wednesday.

Since December, the task force has meet with city leaders and communities throughout Chicago. Lightfoot said minority communities have one prevailing thought of police — that they are racist and not to be trusted.

"They feel like the police do not respect their humanity," Lightfoot said. "We know that sweeps with too broad a brush."

The American Civil Liberties Union said it supported the findings of the task force and called on Emanuel and aldermen to enact the changes. The ACLU has previously taken issues with the department's investigatory stop practices and has reached an agreement with police to reform those practices.

"None of these much needed remedies can be achieved without a fundamental overhaul of how we police the city," Karen Sheeley, police practices director for the ACLU, said in a statement.

Lightfoot said one of the biggest hurdles in restoring the police's relationship with minority communities is to end the "code of silence" and restore accountability to the department.

The task force specifically named the city's labor contract with the Fraternal Order of Police as a document that institutionalizes silence and one that even runs afoul of state laws.

The fact that the labor agreement requires officer complaints older than five years must be destroyed violates state law, said Maurice Classen, task force member. The collective bargaining agreement also disallows the filing of anonymous complaints against officers, he said.

Once a complaint is in the system, the [agreements] make it easy for officers to lie if they are so inclined — they can wait 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting, allowing them to confer with other officers, and they can amend statements after viewing video or audio evidence," according to the task force's report. "In many cases, the [agreements] also require the city to ignore or even destroy evidence of misconduct after a certain number of years."

Lightfoot said restoring police accountability should be a top priority.

"We challenge the department to dismantle the code of silence," she said.

The task also recommends that the department rethink CAPS, or Community Assisted Public Safety, so that community-policing efforts can be engrained into the every day work and practices of the force.

Lightfoot also said the task force would like to see an inspector general of public safety brought onto to the city's payroll so that someone can more effectively "police the police."

It remains to be seen which of the task force's proposal will be adopted by the city or the police department. Lightfoot admitted that the task force cannot hold either entity to enact the report, and she admitted that the Department of Justice's look into the department might produce more binding changes.

"I know we can police in a way that is respectful of civil rights," she said. "Cities all over the country have faced this and come out the other side."

Read the report:

Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Recommendations