Earlier this year, the former federal prosecutor evaluating the Chicago Police Department’s court-ordered efforts to reform itself took the department to task in an unusual letter.
Maggie Hickey, the independent monitor, wrote that some resistance to reform has come from those in the department “who believe crime reduction is separate from, or even opposed to, reform efforts.”
The words were viewed by some as a wake-up call for the department, which has made some gains in complying with court-mandated reforms in recent years, but has also struggled with the cultural changes necessary to make them take hold in a meaningful way.
But in recent weeks, the Police Department’s reform efforts took a one-two punch with the departures of two top officials responsible for implementing changes mandated by the 2019 consent decree, causing some to fear that the department ignored the wake-up call from Hickey and is instead slipping backward.
First, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown fired Robert Boik, the executive director of constitutional policing and reform, on Aug. 9 after he asked the superintendent to reverse a decision that would strip the office of resources in favor of deploying more personnel to patrol, sources told the Tribune.
About a week later, Deputy Chief Eve Gushes, the highest-ranking deputized member in the reform office, retired. Tina Skahill, who previously served as a deputy director in the office of the superintendent, has been named to replace Boik.
The department now finds itself at a key moment, bringing on new reform leadership four years into the expensive, complex and time-consuming undertaking to modernize and bring itself into compliance with the court-mandated fixes.
For those monitoring the department’s progress with the consent decree, the staffing shake-ups raise concerns of losing ground in complying with the sweeping document and point to deeper issues regarding the department’s commitment to — and understanding of — police reform.
The process has included progress that looks good on paper: The most recent report noted the department has come into some compliance with more than 70% of the provisions in the decree. But it has also been dogged by concerns that the department — from its top leadership to rank-and-file officers — has not bought into the changes.
Boik’s axing came after an email requesting that personnel not be diverted away from his office highlighted the potential for for setbacks in officer training, a crucial component of reforms, experts said.. In particular, Boik highlighted the reduction in personnel for crisis intervention training, something that also spurred a critical memo from mental health professionals that have guided that training.
Late Friday the department responded to Tribune questions by pointing to the 70% compliance figure and also said the department has increased the number of staff members dedicated to reform issues, without providing specific details about the numbers. Skahill was not available for comment.
“Before these departures, there already was deep skepticism about CPD’s commitment to reform,” said Cara Hendrickson, executive director of BPI Chicago, a nonprofit law and policy center. “It’s hard for me to imagine a clearer way for the superintendent to signal hostility toward reform than to fire the person leading the reform efforts because he complained about the department undercutting resources needed to implement reform.”
On Aug. 8, Boik emailed Brown after he was informed that he had to send 46 individuals assigned to the reform office back to patrol. Boik asked Brown to reconsider the decision, telling the superintendent that it would diminish the crisis intervention training program, shutter a gender-based violence course and jeopardize the compliance with some consent-decree provisions.
He was fired the next day, even though Gushes’ planned retirement was set to take effect the next week.
The reaction to Boik’s firing from several former mayor’s office officials was swift and consistent: Reform in Chicago would suffer.
Concerns ranged from the potential for continued misconduct by police to the time it will take to finish the lengthy process.
Reached last week, 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin, who serves on the public safety committee, had a more measured reaction, but said he expects that the City Council will be seeking further information in the coming weeks around staffing issues at the Chicago Police Department.
“Anytime you are losing a well-respected individual who is leading a critical office in a critical (area), that should raise questions,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, we need a sufficient number of folks to do the critical work in a timely fashion.”
In a statement, the Illinois attorney general’s office, which oversees the consent decree with the independent monitor, said that Attorney General Kwame Raoul appreciates Boik’s service, writing that he deserves “significant personal credit for the increase in consent decree compliance reflected in the monitor’s latest public reports.”
“His ability to drive positive change will be sorely missed,” the statement read.
The statement also said training for officers is a “core requirement” under the consent decree.
“The reported staffing reductions at the CPD Academy and Office of Constitutional Policing & Reform must not compromise the quality or quantity of training provided to officers or slow the department’s progress on consent decree compliance,” the statement said.
The tension between reforming a department, by meeting goals set by a court, and keeping enough police on the street, is not unusual for police departments, numerous experts said.
But the outcome — the controversial firing of a command staff member who raised questions about how to keep the department well-trained — sends what is essentially an anti-reform message down through the ranks, one policing expert said.
“It tells the officer and the sergeant, and they are so key in this, (to) keep your head down and don’t make waves,” said Terry Gainer, a former law enforcement officer who served in the Chicago Police Department and led the Illinois State Police before also working at the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., during its reform effort.
The move further breeds general distrust of the leadership, he added.
“It says: What in the hell is going on at (35th Street)?” he said, referring to Chicago Police Department headquarters. “What are they thinking down there?
In her letter attached to a consent decree progress report, Hickey made it clear that she does not believe violence prevention and reform are mutually exclusive.
In fact, advocates for reform say the two go hand in hand.
“During times when the department is not moving forward with the consent decree, we are missing opportunities to begin to heal the deep distrust and opportunities to transform the way we create public safety in Chicago,” said Hendrickson, who previously served as an attorney with the Illinois attorney general’s office and helped negotiate the consent decree. “To me, the urgency to move forward with the consent decree is about using the consent decree as one tool for making progress toward keeping our communities safe.”
Doing both — reform and providing immediate public safety — is, however, more complicated than it might seem, said Bob Stewart, a national police practices expert who has served as a monitor in other cities.
“You are walking and chewing gum at the same time. I think it’s tougher than people imagine,” Stewart said.
So having people at the very top with a clear vision of how to take a massive, written plan and make sure that it is implemented on the street is essential, he said.
And for a department like Chicago, which had very limited training requirements and had racked up millions in settlements over police abuse, training is considered critical and essential.
In his email, Boik highlighted one training component that would get shortchanged: crisis intervention, which teaches officers to better respond to calls that involve mental health crises.
His concerns were echoed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago, which in an Aug. 18 memo called the diminishing of the program “worrisome” and said it threatens federal funding that is bolstering it.
“As decades long advocates for the (crisis intervention team) program, it is clear to NAMI Chicago that without a fully resourced, coordinated and stable mental health crisis system in Chicago, a decrease in the CIT program will be detrimental to those experiencing mental health crises in our city,” the memo reads.
Hendrickson questioned whether moving 40 some officers in a force of more than 11,000 would offer a public safety solution.
In other words, the impact of scattering a relatively small number of officers across the city is unclear against the effects of the loss of training resources.
Meanwhile, Michael Harrington, whose community organization Network 49 represents the Far North Side and was one of the groups that filed the original lawsuit seeking a consent decree, was not convinced that some officers could not be moved out of the reform office.
The critical training needed in Chicago, around constitutional policing and civil rights, could be handled by civilian employees, he said, which would free officers up for more street patrol.
“There is no question there are qualified experts in Chicago, who have paid attention to how to improve police professionalism,” Harrington said.
For Martin, who formerly worked in the Illinois attorney general’s office and helped write the consent decree, ensuring that there is this balance between patrol operations and meaningful reform will require more information from the department in the coming months. This would include the department sharing specifics on the number of positions budgeted for the office, but also the number of people detailed in and out and how often this happens.
He expects this topic to be discussed during upcoming budget hearings.
“There are real outstanding questions with the change in leadership,” he said.
Many who follow the department’s work on the consent decree said Boik’s firing and other office turnover is symptomatic of deeper problems with the reform effort.
Sheila Bedi, a law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and a civil rights attorney, said she expects progress in complying with the consent decree to slow further in the wake of the staffing shake-up.
“The reform efforts have been stalled, have been largely ineffective and have not been backed by the political will to actually transform CPD,” Bedi said.
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Harrington agreed the city and department had already been moving too slowly, especially in terms of partnering with residents. The independent monitor’s most recent report on CPD’s progress in complying with the court order echoed this concern, saying the department faces significant struggles with community engagement and building trust.
“It’s more fundamental than just Mr. Boik,” Harrington said. “… The department has failed time and again on so many issues, especially regarding community participation.”
Still, Harrington noted that a new civilian-led policing commission is about to launch, which brings new oversight of the department. As part of that, there will be elected resident councils in each police district.
He is hopeful that the department and city will also begin working harder toward reform.
“Chicago will be well served if the millions already spent on the Consent Decree and police reform — and the millions more to be spent — result in stronger enforcement action by the federal court and seriously improved compliance by CPD to change its policies, practices, and even the mindset of policing in our city,” Harrington said in a statement he texted. “If that doesn’t happen now, and not in some distant future, our millions of tax dollars are wasted..”
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August 28, 2022 at 05:10AM