New Chicago superintendent facing 'challenge' of federally-mandated reforms

Charlie Beck said Friday he will prioritize bringing the department into compliance with federal court orders

Jeremy Gorner
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Charlie Beck, who is set to officially take over as Chicago’s interim police superintendent at the beginning of 2020, said Friday the Police Department will be “immeasurably better” after carrying out federally mandated reforms but acknowledged the road ahead will be turbulent.

In 8 years as the Los Angeles police chief, Beck has been through similar changes before as he led a department that had been rocked by scandal in the 1990s through a federal consent decree that took a decade to implement.

In his first public appearance in Chicago since the day after he was named interim superintendent two weeks ago, Beck told reporters at City Hall that bringing the Police Department in compliance with a court order calling for changes to officer training, supervision and numerous other areas stood out as a “huge challenge” awaiting him.

“It’s not easy, and it’s not quick," Beck said at the news conference. “There are many, many changes that have to take place, many things that have to be funded, many things that have to be done to make that happen. But ... the Chicago Police Department will be immeasurably better.”

Beck’s comments came a week after former federal prosecutor Maggie Hickey’s first progress report showed Chicago police and city officials failed to meet 37 of the 50 reform deadlines over the first six months since a judge approved the consent decree.

In the report, Hickey, who is monitoring the city’s progress, noted that the Police Department failed to “incorporate best practices from other jurisdictions” in a training bulletin on foot pursuits that have often led to shootings by officers.

She also reported problems with the department’s whistleblowing policy, saying it failed to mention protecting officers from retaliation who report misconduct.

At the news conference, Beck would not say if he found the missed deadlines typical of a big city police department under a consent decree but noted it’s important that the Police Department has “sufficient staff” to monitor the pace of the reforms.

“I’ve never seen a city that got high marks on their first reports,” he said. “It takes a while to set up the systems and processes by which the consent decree has to be met. And obviously, if those systems were in place, the consent decree wouldn’t have been necessary.”

“It’s very difficult to meet those changes,” he said. “It’s not as simple as issuing an order.”

Beck also spoke in favor of a civilian oversight board for the Police Department, a reform that still needs the backing of the City Council. As a lieutenant, Beck worked with the LAPD’s police commission, a five-member board that sets policies for the department and oversees its operations.

“It is a very positive thing," he said Friday. "It’s something that gives the department a lot of credibility.”

As for Chicago’s proposed ordinance, Beck said, "the devil in this is in the details, and those have to be worked out.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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