If there was any doubt before, there is no doubt now. Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be forced to go it alone on police reform.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to review and retreat from police reform agreements nationwide also means Emanuel alone will wear the political jacket.
“It takes away a point of leverage if he was trying to convince various stakeholders that might be in opposition to reform that he has no choice,” said Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, who co-chaired the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability.
“The mayor has to own responsibility for this entirely now. The federal government is walking away. Not a surprise. But this [Sessions] memo makes it abundantly clear.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said Emanuel’s job will now be “much more difficult.”
“With the federal government backing us, we would have had the force of law behind us in implementing these changes. Now, we don’t have that. And we’re going to have an emboldened FOP saying that, `We don’t have to do these changes. It’s not necessary,’” Sawyer said.
It’s one thing for Emanuel to hire 1,000 more police officers, bolster supervision and overhaul equipment and training to give officers the tools they desperately need and apparently never had.
It’s quite another for the mayor to restore public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and renegotiate a police contract that, according to his own Task Force on Police Accountability, turned the “code of silence into official policy.”
From a political standpoint, Emanuel would be far better off with a consent decree and a federal monitor pressuring the city to change the police contract that expires on June 30.
Without that backing, the mayor must play the heavy at the worst possible time.
Police officers are emboldened by a Sessions memo that, Lightfoot contends, pushes the “false narrative” that, “If you support reform and accountability, you’re somehow anti-police.”
Leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police is up for grabs with the potential that an April 12 runoff could culminate in the election of a union president who is far more militant than incumbent FOP President Dean Angelo.
And Black Caucus members are threatening to hold up ratification of any police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and requires sworn affidavits.
“If the mayor stands pat, the majority of Council members will stand with him on making the changes. But it’s gonna be up to him,” Sawyer said.
Angelo and his run-off opponent, Police Officer Kevin Graham, could not be reached for comment.
Lightfoot said she’s encouraged by the ambitious police reform plan for 2017 unveiled by Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
But, she’s concerned that it makes no mention of the police contract.
“Someone — whether it’s the mayor or his corporation counsel — needs to articulate what the values are that they’re going to bring to these negotiations. We have not heard that yet,” she said.
“In the last 18 months, we’ve had a sea change of civic outcry about the status quo. It’s incumbent upon the mayor and/or Ed Siskel to articulate to people, to City Council and, frankly, to the union, what values they are bringing to the negotiations to acknowledge that they are mindful of the many many, many voices that are crying out for change.”
Emanuel is notoriously preoccupied with winning the daily news cycle and putting political “points on the board.”
Some question his commitment to see the Chicago Police Department through a reform process that will take years, not days or months.
“This kind of change requires consistency, focus and dedication. That’s what’s gonna be necessary to really make a difference,” Lightfoot said.
Looming over it all is the 2019 mayoral election.
If Emanuel chooses to seek a third term, he’ll need the support of black voters who helped to elect him in 2011 and re-elect him in 2015, even after he closed a record 50 public schools.
But Sawyer said the mayor must restore the public trust he lost because of his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video — and Emanuel stands no chance of doing that, Sawyer added, unless he eliminates police abuses that have dragged on for decades.
“If he does not go forward with these [reforms], I don’t think he can rely on the black vote come 2019. It will be very difficult. Almost impossible,” he said.
To get re-elected, Emanuel also needs to stop the bloodshed on Chicago streets. He needs to convince police officers he once accused of going “fetal” to be aggressive again and that he will have their backs if they do.
“All of our heads are on the table right now because of the violence. We’re all to blame for it. That’s the way it’s perceived to be,” Sawyer said.
“We want the police to be aggressive, but not disrespectful or violating the law. We want them to be effective and also have the respect and cooperation of the citizens. We can’t clear these cases without getting information from everyday citizens.”