Chicago Police Unexpectedly Lose Their Reformer to Oakland
By Annie Sweeney
As Chicago braces for the results of a federal civil rights probe into its police practices, the commander hired just six months ago from outside the department to guide reforms abruptly left to become police chief of Oakland, Calif.
Anne Kirkpatrick was tapped in June in a surprise move by Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Three months earlier, Kirkpatrick was among three finalists for the superintendent's post in Chicago but was passed over in favor of Johnson.
News of her departure comes at an inopportune time for the Police Department as the U.S. Justice Department is expected to be wrapping up its wide-ranging investigation into allegations of excessive force by officers and other potentially unconstitutional conduct.
Kirkpatrick did not return a call or a text message from a Tribune reporter seeking comment Wednesday, but at a news conference in Oakland to announce her appointment, she said she was not looking for a job "at the time this opportunity came my way."
She also told reporters she left Chicago "for no other reason" than she had long desired to work in Oakland.
"The reform efforts there (in Chicago) are very much at an incubator stage," Kirkpatrick said.
Oakland has for years struggled to implement a 2003 federal consent decree that involved allegations of rampant abuse and bias by officers. More recently, the department has been rocked by scandal after revelations that officers had sexual contact with a teenage sex worker, prompting the resignation of the police chief amid the allegations. In September, the department moved to fire four officers and suspend seven others.
A statement issued on Johnson's behalf thanked Kirkpatrick "for her contributions in helping to lay the groundwork for our reform efforts" and wished her his best "on this incredible opportunity."
A former police chief of Spokane, Wash., Kirkpatrick was one of three finalists recommended for Chicago superintendent by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked Police Board, but in a surprise, the mayor promoted Johnson, a department veteran, to the post in March even though he had not sought the job.
Emanuel had fired Garry McCarthy as superintendent in late 2015 amid the fallout over the court-ordered release of a video showing police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke is fighting first-degree murder charges in the teen's killing.
Despite losing out on the top job, Kirkpatrick joined the department in June to head up its reform efforts as Emanuel pushed to improve disciplinary measures and training to stay ahead of the Justice Department probe.
Kirkpatrick brought the perspective of an outsider to the troubled Police Department, a necessary step if unpopular changes need to be made to deal with entrenched problems, according to many policing experts.
As recently as two weeks ago, she spoke to the Tribune about the affect the reforms could have in Chicago.
"My experience here so far is that the officers, the members of this department, are not fighting this whole idea of reform," she said. "... When officers are trained with the best practices and constitutional policing ... they can be confident they are staying within the boundaries. And when they stay within the boundaries, they don't need to worry about getting into trouble."
Lori Lightfoot, the head of the Chicago Police Board, said Kirkpatrick's departure was a loss for the city but didn't have to set back reform efforts. Lightfoot credited her with having the "integrity" to step into a supporting role after losing out on the superintendent's post.
"I think she is clear-eyed and extremely hardworking and dedicated," Lightfoot said. "... What this means is someone else is going to have to step up. The work still needs to get done."
At least one police reform expert in Chicago downplayed the significance of Kirkpatrick's departure, saying Chicago's problems are so entrenched that even an outsider could not be counted on to usher in the change Chicago needs.
"I was not hopeful that any kind of real accountability would come from a position embedded within the Police Department given the depths of corruption and the code of silence," said Sheila Bedi, a professor with Northwestern University's MacArthur Justice Center. "People in Chicago's communities have a real sense of what has gone wrong with the excessive use of force and the racial profiling. The institution itself hasn't reckoned with these things."
Bedi said true reform must be guided by strong civilian oversight, including a board that isn't appointed by the mayor that has strong powers to monitor investigations into police misconduct.
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