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Rahm Vows To Impose Police Department Reforms In City's 'Self Interest'

By Heather Cherone | January 12, 2017 4:15pm
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel (l.) and interim Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (r.) at a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel (l.) and interim Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (r.) at a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony.
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DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer

DOWNTOWN — With the results of a federal investigation into the Chicago Police Department sparked by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald set to be released Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would impose only those reforms that are in the city's "self interest."

Emanuel said any changes prompted by the investigation should not be used to punish officers but to enhance public safety and give officers the tools they need to do a "very difficult job in very trying areas."

"We as a city are on the road to reform and doing it in a way that our police officers are supported to achieve the public safety we want in every part of the city," Emanuel said.

The report is expected to find that Chicago police officers routinely violated the civil rights of residents, sources said.

"The solution to any wrongdoing we find in Chicago's law enforcement community can be fixed by what's going right in the Chicago Police Department," Emanuel said.

Emanuel — who told reporters at an unrelated event Thursday afternoon at Union Station that he had not seen the full report — declined four times to answer questions about whether he believed the investigation should lead to a legally binding agreement — known as a consent decree — between the city and the federal government to ensure that reforms are implemented.

The city and federal officials could also reach an "agreement in principle" laying out needed reforms that could be overseen by a judge.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in December 2015 that the probe would focus on the department's use of force as it applies to race and ethnicity in possible violation of civil rights. It will also look into whether officers guilty of misconduct are held responsible, she said.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions — who has been picked by President-elect Donald Trump to be the nation's next attorney general — expressed skepticism during his confirmation hearing Tuesday about the use of consent decrees to address civil rights abuses in policing.

"We don't know what the next administration is going to do," Emanuel said, adding that he would continue to make the "necessary changes" the police department needs.

Emanuel said he did not wait for the report from the Department of Justice to begin reforming the Chicago Police Department after the release of a dashcam video that showed a police officer fatally shoot 17-year-old McDonald 16 times.

Former Officer Jason Van Dyke is awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges in connection with McDonald's death, and department officials have moved to fire seven other officers accused of lying about McDonald's death and its aftermath.

The graphic video set off a wave of protests that eventually toppled former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy. Emanuel replaced him with Eddie Johnson, whom Emanuel has effusively praised for leading the department through the aftermath of the video.

The release of the video also exposed a deep breach between the department and Chicagoans that Emanuel has sought to repair, while working to restore his political prospects and set up a potential run for a third term as Chicago's mayor.

Emanuel vowed to use the results of the federal investigation to "build off of" the progress made in the last year.

"There is no going back," Emanuel said. "I am determined to see this effort through."

Emanuel emphasized that any reforms must not target officers.

"I want to be clear about something," Emanuel said. "This is not being done to the police. I'm not going to participate in us; them; you," Emanuel said, pointing his finger. "We want to give our officers certainty in maintaining and achieving and the highest professional standards because that is how we also ensure that they are proactive and engaged in public safety. If it is interpreted like it has in other cities, and ends up in a reactive mode, we're not going to get to public safety."

In the wake of the video release, the president of the union that represents Chicago's police officers told the City Council Tuesday that morale among his officers is the lowest it has been in 35 years.

More than 730 people were slain in the city — the highest tally since Chicago's poorest communities were ravaged by crack cocaine and violence in the ’90s — in 2016.

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