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Monitor: Chicago PD making significant progress on reform, but challenges remain

The report released Tuesday highlights community policing and engagement as areas still needing particular improvement


Evidence markers are seen on the ground as Chicago police process a crime scene.

Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

By Madeline Buckley
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department has improved its training processes for officers and “devoted significant attention” to its foot pursuit policy, but it also faces significant struggles with community engagement and building trust, according to a report on the department’s progress toward making court-ordered reforms.

The biannual report released Tuesday offered a snapshot of CPD’s ongoing reform effort — finding that the department had reached some level of compliance in more than 70% of the provisions reviewed but also noting challenges the department continues to encounter. The report evaluates CPD’s compliance with the consent decree during the second half of 2021.

In an unusual move, Maggie Hickey, the former federal prosecutor who’s the court-appointed independent monitor, attached a letter to the report that nodded to “major changes” instituted by CPD under the guidance of the consent decree, but also outlined outgoing problems that plague the department as it works to comply with the consent decree.

“Constitutional and effective policing and the Consent Decree require more than a simple checklist: the CPD and other relevant City entities must become learning organizations, capable of identifying new and existing challenges and implementing corresponding solutions,” Hickey wrote.

The Chicago Police Department has been under the sweeping consent decree since 2019, after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the department that came in the wake of the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

In the letter, Hickey said CPD must “significantly improve and demonstrate its commitment” to community engagement as well as data collection, analysis and management.

She also made a connection between reform efforts and crime reduction, writing that the two should work hand in hand. Shootings in Chicago remained high last year, during the period evaluated in the report, after they began surging in 2020.

“Some resistance to police reform has been from those who believe crime reduction is separate from, or even opposed to, reform efforts,” she wrote.

Regarding the report, it overall highlighted community policing and engagement as areas needing particular improvement, saying: “The CPD’s community engagement efforts continue to frustrate members of Chicago’s communities.”

Reflecting on the reforms in a briefing before the report was released, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown noted that the department has challenges to overcome in community policing, but said CPD continues to make progress in the long process of complying with the consent degree.

“We certainly have a sense of urgency around building trust and engaging in the community,” Brown said.

Among challenges outlined in the report: CPD seeks out input from the community on its policies late in the process, depriving people of the chance to offer feedback during the formative phase of the plans. Its office of community policing also has insufficient staffing, and the department has two different vehicles for community policing, Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (also known as CAPS) with its Neighborhood Policing Initiative (also known as NPI).

The monitoring team wrote that, despite asking for clarification for two years, it remains unclear how CPD will merge the two initiatives.

“We continue to be concerned about how the CPD understands and discerns the differences and nuances among community engagement, community partnerships, community relationships, community policing, and community service,” the report said.

The report also criticized the department’s recent focus on generating at least 1.5 million “positive community interactions.” The effort, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, was meant to build trust in the community, but the independent monitoring team wrote that it “may ultimately undermine” this goal.

Though such interactions do have a role in building trust among Chicagoans, CPD “appears to be overemphasizing” them, the report said.

The department also seems to be seeking quantity over quality, the report said. It does not have a clear definition of what constitutes a positive community interaction nor a sound way to track and maintain quality control of the data.

“CPD seriously risks increasing negative interactions, damaging public trust, and undermining its ability to ensure it is providing constitutional and effective policing,” the report said.

Among other areas where CPD needs to improve, the report noted that the Bureau of Internal Affairs, which investigates misconduct in the department, has lagged behind progress of other departments.

Still, the department made progress in areas, such as training, where it “significantly improved in the resources allocated” to some trainings, though the report says the department still has challenges efficiently tracking attendance.

Also, in response to community input, the department began requiring officers to physically intervene — rather than just verbally — when they see excessive force, the report said.

CPD officials have consistently maintained that complying with the consent decree is a long process that moves forward in phases.

The department’s 70% compliance rate marks an increase over the last monitoring period, which achieved a little more than 50%.

“This … is real and significant progress,” Brown said.

During the first half of 2021, the department was found to be in at least some compliance with about 52% of the provisions evaluated in that monitoring period. CPD also met 26 of the 51 agreed-on deadlines.

In that report, the independent monitor highlighted concerns with the department’s progress toward implementing a foot pursuit policy in the wake of the shooting death of Adam Toledo in March of 2021. The report said the police department, though it has an interim policy, missed the deadline to formulate the new policy.

The report also said the department’s foot pursuit data was likely inaccurate.

Offering an update on the foot pursuit concerns, Robert Boik, executive director of constitutional policing and reform at the Chicago Police Department, told reporters the department will have a foot pursuit policy in place “at some point this year.” He also said the department is working on the data inaccuracies, and will have a form for officers to fill out that will help in the data collection.

A federal judge in March granted CPD a three-year extension to comply with the consent decree, giving the department a total of eight years to meet all of the court-ordered reforms.

“To do it right and really make the change the community is expecting of the police department, and has demanded of the police department, it takes time to get there,” Boik said.

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