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Chicago's Top Cop Vows To 'Transform CPD' Without Federal Enforcement

By Alex Nitkin | June 9, 2017 8:58am | Updated on June 9, 2017 9:15am
"We have committed to you all to transform CPD, and we are going to move down that road regardless of any external issues," Johnson said.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

PORTAGE PARK — Efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department are "going to move forward regardless" of federal oversight, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson told Northwest Side residents at a public safety forum on Thursday night.

"It doesn't matter what happens in Washington, D.C.," Johnson told the 100-plus attendees at Chicago Tabernacle Church, 3231 N. Cicero Ave., at a meeting hosted by 30th Ward Ald. Ariel Reboyras.

"We have committed to you all to transform CPD, and we are going to move down that road regardless of any external issues," Johnson said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week announced that he'd seek a "memorandum of agreement" with the U.S. Justice Department to pursue the reform effort sparked by the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. The memorandum would strip federal officials' power to oversee the reforms, leaving the city to enforce the process on its own.

A federal investigation completed in January described the city's police force as routinely violating the civil rights of residents by using excessive force caused by poor training and supervision.

On the day that the report of the federal investigation'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.

A memorandum of agreement is "kind of like a consent decree," Johnson said Thursday, saying that similar agreements had yielded results in cities like Washington and Las Vegas.

"CPD does a lot of things well, but there are some things that we didn't do well, and we're fixing those. We're correcting them," he said. "And I really believe that when we get finished, this will be the best law enforcement agency in this country."

The Police Department already has begun folding in new programs, including mental health awareness and de-escalation training, and has revised a policy that will determine when and how police officers can use force.

A new $1.8 million unit in Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's office will be charged with scrutinizing police misconduct investigations and how officers are disciplined.

And a new agency — the 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's work will be faster and more thorough.

Johnson predicted on Thursday that the full suite of improvements would take hold within "less than five years."

Some reforms already have led to progress, he added, saying the department has seen a decline in violence since last year, when the city saw more shootings and murders than any year in nearly two decades, because of closer community involvement.

"One thing that I'm very pleased about is our communication with the public, because we are getting that trust back," Johnson said, adding that detectives' clearance rates for solving crimes have "crept up quite a bit" since 2016.

Thursday's meeting also included presentations from the commanders of three Northwest Side police districts and a demonstration of the Police Department's updated ShotSpotter technology.

Reboyras and Jefferson Park District Cmdr. Bill Looney promised to have a follow-up meeting to discuss crime issues with business owners near Belmont and Central avenues.