In Chicago, Skepticism Surrounds New Police Accountability Task Force
By Annie Sweeney and Hal Dardick
They are well-known and respected in Chicago's legal community, but whether members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new policing task force will be able to repair the fractured relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the community and prevent future police abuses was met with skepticism Tuesday.
In appointing the task force, Emanuel spoke of Chicago's history of police misconduct and excessive force and the need to build stronger bonds of community trust.
But those who have spent years battling in court and at City Hall on these very issues pointed to previous task forces convened on police misconduct, which they say failed to bring about enough change, and also questioned whether the mayor was inviting the right people to the table.
The commission includes three former federal prosecutors -- Lori Lightfoot, head of the Chicago Police Board, which disciplines officers; Sergio Acosta, a partner at the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson; and Joseph Ferguson, the city's inspector general. Also appointed were Hiram Grau, former director of the Illinois State Police and a former Chicago police deputy superintendent who was popular with rank-and-file officers, and Randolph Stone, a former Cook County chief public defender who is a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is from Chicago and was an assistant U.S. attorney general in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, was named "senior adviser."
But some say the panel lacks representation from those most critical of the department and those most affected by police misconduct.
"Someone who has been involved in this kind of litigation and fighting these issues over decades should be involved," said veteran Chicago civil rights attorney Flint Taylor. "I think this commission should have representatives from Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100 and We Charge Genocide. They are the young people who most represent the people who are getting shot and getting beaten."
The commission was announced the same day Emanuel fired his superintendent, Garry McCarthy, amid intense criticism over the release of troubling footage from a department dash cam that showed a veteran white police officer shooting and killing a teenager in October 2014. The officer was charged with first-degree murder last week after a judge issued a ruling forcing the video's release.
Activists and political leaders had called for McCarthy's ouster -- as well as for Emanuel to step down -- as the city has faced national scrutiny for its handling of the investigation into the killing of Laquan McDonald.
The year it took for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to charge Officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting has also drawn much scrutiny and a call for her ouster.
Many aldermen also were skeptical of the task force, with at least one member expressing concern over how the commission would share information.
"We've seen the mayor put together a hand-selected task force, and then they come out with a very managed result," said freshman Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th. "Now is not the time to have more closed-door conversations."
Lightfoot on Tuesday pledged the commission would be reaching out to the community, though she was not specific on who that would be or how that would be done.
"I don't have a specific list today but people who are engaged in these issues, who have constructive things to say, are people we are going to want to engage with," Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot called the commission's members independent-minded with "proven track records."
Lightfoot in the past represented a Chicago police officer sued with other officers in an alleged beating while off-duty at a Loop bar. Lightfoot also headed up the former Office of Professional Standards in Chicago, which was charged with investigating misconduct of officers and was replaced by the Independent Police Review Authority.
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who has studied police misconduct, said the commission's members have "integrity," but he wondered whether this task force would be different from countless others.
In 1997, former federal prosecutor Dan Webb led a task force in the wake of a scandal in the Austin police district, Futterman noted. A decade later, civilian oversight over police wrongdoing was restructured with the forming of the Independent Police Review Authority. And now the city is looking at studying the issue again, he said.
"Forming another commission and having recommendations? Been there done that," he said.
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