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No Need For Federal Judge To Oversee Police Reforms, Rahm Now Says

 'We’re on the road to reform,
'We’re on the road to reform," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "There’s no U-turn here."
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

DOWNTOWN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel Monday defended requesting an independent monitor — and not a federal judge — be put in charge of the effort to reform the Chicago Police Department sparked by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Speaking at an event designed to tout the opening of cyber security firm Trustwave’s new Downtown headquarters, Emanuel told reporters that while there are "many roads to reform, but they all hit the same destination."

“This is the model that is exactly the right way," Emanuel said. 

A sweeping federal investigation completed in the waning days of the Obama administration found that as gun violence "overwhelmed" Chicago, its police force routinely violated the civil rights of residents by using excessive force caused by poor training and nonexistent supervision.

On the day that the report's findings were announced, Emanuel signed an agreement promising to negotiate a legally binding agreement — known as a consent decree — to ensure that reforms are implemented under the authority of a federal judge.

However, new Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in February that he had not read the 161-page report by Obama officials and dismissed some of its findings as "pretty anecdotal, and not so scientifically based."

Sessions has long been a critic of consent decrees. In 2008, the then-senator called consent decrees "dangerous" and said they "constitute an end run around the democratic process."

On Friday, Emanuel's administration said that it had asked the Department of Justice to appoint what is known as an independent monitor — agreed to by both the Emanuel and Trump administrations — to keep tabs on the reform effort.

The monitor will provide the city with an "independent set of eyes" and "achieve the same goals" as a consent decree would, Emanuel said.


Other cities facing calls to reform their police departments, including Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati, also had their reform efforts overseen by independent monitors, who have far less authority to order changes than a federal judge has.

At the height of the outcry after the release of video showing a Chicago Police officer fatally shooting 17-year-old McDonald, Emanuel sought advice from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who had been lauded for reforming his city's police department, according to Emanuel's private emails revealed as part of a lawsuit settlement.

Emanuel did not answer questions about the details of the proposed agreement. It is not clear how the independent monitor would be picked, what reforms he or she would be charged with overseeing and any deadlines for implementation.

Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department who led the federal investigation of the police department, told the Tribune that without the oversight of the federal court, necessary reforms would not be implemented because the agreement would be toothless.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, Emanuel has repeatedly pledged to reform the Chicago Police Department regardless of whether the Sessions-led Justice Department enters into a consent decree.

Emanuel, who is expected to announce this summer whether he plans to run for a third term as mayor, has already proposed and implemented a number of changes to the police department, including additional mental health awareness and de-escalation training as well as a revised policy that will determine when and how police officers can use force.

In addition, a new $1.8 million unit in Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's office will be charged with scrutinizing police misconduct investigations and the discipline imposed on officers.

A new agency — Civilian Office of Police Accountability — will begin investigating allegations of excessive force and misconduct by police officers in September, and Emanuel has promised the new agency will work more thoroughly and faster.