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Rahm's Police Reform Plan Slammed As 'IG Light' By Inspector General

By Heather Cherone | June 27, 2017 12:26pm | Updated on June 27, 2017 1:31pm
 Inspector General Joseph Ferguson will serve a third four-year term if confirmed by the City Council after he was reappointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Inspector General Joseph Ferguson will serve a third four-year term if confirmed by the City Council after he was reappointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
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CITY HALL — On his way to a third term as the city's watchdog, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision to not to ask a federal judge to oversee the reform of the Chicago Police Department sparked by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a reversal of course by the mayor after his earlier promises to seek federal involvement.

Ferguson, whom Emanuel agreed in May to reappoint to another term starting Oct. 16, told the City Council's Budget Committee that the mayor should "unquestionably" partner with community groups and ask a judge to oversee the ongoing reform effort if the Trump administration's Justice Department refuses to seek a consent decree.

The fact that the mayor's proposal to Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not developed in consultation with community groups, Ferguson's office or the underdeveloped Civilian Office of Police Accountability "puts a cloud over its legitimacy," Ferguson said.

"The mantle of legitimacy is missing" from the mayor's effort, Ferguson said.

Emanuel's proposal — now under review by the Justice Department — would create a "redundant" and "handcuffed" second watchdog without enough resources to get the job done, Ferguson said.

"It sets up an 'IG light' with no enforcement power," Ferguson said, adding that while he thought the mayor's proposal was "well-intentioned," the city would be better served by an agreement enforced by a federal judge.

Ferguson criticized Sessions' antipathy toward police reform, saying the former Alabama senator's record makes it clear that he is "not committed to civil rights" and is unlikely to agree to a consent decree.

"We are in a crappy situation," Ferguson 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 attributed to 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, 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."

Emanuel said his plan to have an independent monitor — agreed to by both him and Sessions — would provide the city with an "independent set of eyes" and "achieve the same goals" as a consent decree would, Emanuel said.

“This is the model that is exactly the right way," Emanuel said, adding there are "many roads to reform, but they all hit the same destination."

Adam Collins, a spokesman for Emanuel, blamed the debate on the "Trump DOJ [that] refused to enter into a consent decree."

"As you heard from Aldermen this morning, there are a lot of legitimate opinions on the best framework for future reforms, but there is no question that these reforms will happen," Collins said in a statement.

Without the oversight of a federal judge, there will be no way to restore the public's trust in the Police Department, Ferguson said.

"There's no trust right now," Ferguson said, adding that only a judge with the authority to order changes could ensure that reforms are implemented.

Ferguson's reappointment was unanimously endorsed by the City Council's Budget and Government committee, and is expected to be approved by the full Council Wednesday.

"I think you are doing an excellent job," said 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly. "You are a straight shooter, and we need a straight shooter in this job."

Ferguson said Laura Kunard — the deputy inspector general for public safety — along with 15 new employees will start working next week to unravel the "tangled patchwork" of how officers are held accountable.

That position was created when the Council endorsed Emanuel's effort to disband the Independent Police Review Authority and replace it with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in the wake of the outcry that followed the release of a dashcam video showing a police officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

The new agency is set to launch Sept. 15, officials said.

Emanuel last reappointed Ferguson in 2013, but the watchdog — who was often at loggerheads with the mayor — had been expected to serve only another 18 months after he resolved one of Chicago's longest-running legal disputes — the notorious Shakman decree governing political hiring and firing.

"There is much work to do," Ferguson said. "Where there is money and power, there will be issues. That's human nature."

Ferguson — acknowledging that he was "tooting my own horn" — said his experience ending court oversight of hiring and firing at city agencies could serve as a way to reform the Police Department.