Chicago Mayor and State Attorney General Jointly Seek Court Enforcement of CPD Reform

Posted on September 1, 2017

 The Chicago Tribune reports that State Attorney General Lisa Madigan has announced that the Illinois Attorney General’s office would sue the City of Chicago in order to obtain and enforce a court order to compel the city to reform its police department. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pursued alternatives to court-mandated reform in the past, he stood with Attorney General Madigan at the press conference announcing the lawsuit on Tuesday and voiced support for the latest initiative led by the state government. 

Calls for a binding reform process began after the US Department of Justice under the administration of President Obama released the findings of its patterns and practices investigation into the Chicago Police Department. However, as the report was made public in the last weeks of the Obama administration, the Justice Department did not enter negotiations with the city for a consent decree, and the Justice Department under President Donald Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has adopted a policy which eschews consent decrees and other legally binding police reform orders. As such, the Justice Department waived its right to a consent decree on CPD entirely.

To fill the void, Emanuel approached the Trump administration in the hopes of procuring an agreement directly, without the oversight of a court. Madigan dismissed this prospective out-of-court agreement as insufficient, leading her to launch her office’s present suit against the city, which Emanuel has now agreed to back. Although this represents a significant step in a process that had otherwise stalled almost entirely with Trump’s inauguration, this lawsuit constitutes a poor substitute for a Justice Department consent decree, as there are many more obstacles for the new state-led push to overcome to produce meaningful reforms.

It is also unclear how enthusiastically Madigan’s office will pursue the lawsuit. As an article in the Chicago Reader on the announcement of the suit points out, activists with the Black Lives Matter movement filed a similar lawsuit, but have met considerably greater setbacks, as the city aggressively resisted it. With the Mayor’s embrace of Madigan’s suit, where it vehemently opposed the Black Lives Matter lawsuit, one cannot help but suspect the former to be less exacting or sparing than the latter. There is precedent for the merging of two lawsuits such as these, but it is unclear at this time whether a judge presiding over Madigan’s suit would be open to such a measure.

It is worth reiterating that any attempt at invoking court oversight is a tremendous stride in the right direction, but whether any reform requirements will be upheld by the court will depend on whether the prior case is included in the new one, and how receptive the judge will be to state efforts to supplement the egregiously inadequate police oversight from the federal government. 

You can read the full story from the Chicago Tribune here