The long, divisive battle over the future of the Chicago Police Department hit a turning point Thursday as a federal judge approved a plan intended to fundamentally alter the way a troubled police force treats the people it is sworn to serve and protect.
But the judge’s order made clear that the next phase of the push to overhaul the department — sparked more than three years ago by Laquan McDonald’s video-recorded shooting death at the hands of a Chicago police officer — won’t be easy or swift.
“It took a long time to get to this place, and it may take a long time to get out of it,” wrote U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. “With that said, there are good reasons to think that the conditions and incentives may be in place to start making progress right away.”
The judge concluded the order: “Let us begin.”
Dow’s action clears the way for the department to start making hundreds of changes to policy and practice laid out in the consent decree, a court order of some 230 pages backed by the judge’s enforcement power. The document is the product of a lawsuit that former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed against the city after Mayor Rahm Emanuelwavered in his commitment to court oversight; aides to the two politicians worked toward the decree for more than a year.
The decree calls for changes — ranging from the technical to the philosophical — to be implemented over the next five years. The order mandates changes to the way officers are trained, supervised and disciplined, among other areas.
For example, the consent decree mandates that the Police Department ban officers from using Taser electric shock devices on people who are simply running away, something that is not now specifically prohibited. It also calls on the department to better train officers on how to deal with people in crisis and how to respond to hate crimes.
More broadly, the decree repeatedly urges officers to respect “the sanctity of human life” and uses the words “dignity” and “respect” in describing how cops should interact with people.