Reforming this city's police force within the framework of the federally mandated consent decree should never become a second tier priority. A recent personnel move at the department suggests it already has.
Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown recently fired Robert Boik, CPD's executive director of constitutional policing and reform. Boik was Brown's point man for keeping the department on course with implementing the consent decree, the 2019 court order that mapped out in painstaking detail how the city must reform its Police Department.
Boik's work was critical for two reasons. First, the consent decree isn't a set of suggestions or guidelines. It's a document with teeth. A federal judge enforces the consent decree's implementation, and won't free the city of its oversight until City Hall and CPD show they have carried out every reform.
Second, Chicago will never solve the chasm in trust between police and the city's largely Black and Hispanic communities on the South and West sides unless it puts real, long-lasting reforms into action. Over the decades, CPD has failed miserably in showing it can reform itself - it needs the consent decree as a blueprint, and as motivation.
Boik was fired after sending an email to Brown about the superintendent's decision to move members of Boik's staff to patrol duty, the Tribune reported. Boik told Brown in the email, which was obtained by the Tribune, that the move would prevent the department from offering a gender-based violence course to officers this year, and set back CPD's crisis intervention training, an important aspect of consent decree-mandated reform.
"Beyond the consent decree requirement to train our frontline officers, we have a fundamental obligation to ensure all our officers are provided with equal tools to do their jobs in the field. With the proposed cuts, every single officer will fall short of 40 hours of training this year," Boik wrote in the email.
He asked Brown to reverse the decision, and was let go, according to the Tribune, which also quoted the department as saying it "does not comment on personnel matters."
On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot downplayed Boik's firing, calling it "palace intrigue." She said every department needs to contribute resources to fight rising crime, particularly on CTA trains.
Lightfoot's right, especially when it comes to the CTA. A recent uptick in violent crime on CTA trains and platforms is becoming an existential crisis for the city's mass transit system, and beefing up patrols within the system is a common sense response.
But that cannot derail efforts to responsibly and comprehensively reform Chicago police through strict compliance with the consent decree.
Particularly alarming about Boik's termination is that it reminds us of other recent departures from the city payroll. When Susan Lee, Lightfoot's deputy mayor for public safety, left City Hall last year, she sent an email to two top mayoral aides expressing her concern that the mayor's administration was not devoting enough resources to "keep the ball moving forward" on consent decree implementation and violence prevention.
At about the same time Lee quit, Chad Williams, once the civilian commanding officer for CPD's audit division, resigned and told Lightfoot in an email that "the inability of this department's top leadership to even feign interest in pursuing reform in a meaningful manner has made it impossible for me to remain involved." Williams complained of the department's "check the boxes" approach that put up a facade of consent decree compliance.
Boik's firing sends the wrong message to rank and file police officers and to Chicagoans. That message: Police reform is getting in the way of keeping the streets safe.
The message that Lightfoot, Brown and the rest of CPD leadership should be sending officers and the rest of the city? Police reform is vital to the mission of keeping the streets safe.
Without it, residents on the South and West sides will never feel comfortable coming forward to police investigators with information about crimes and criminals in their violence-plagued neighborhoods. Their "us vs. them" view of police will endure.
That doesn't mean top CPD brass should react meekly to summer violence and growing concerns about violent crime on CTA trains and platforms. It just means that the beefing up of manpower and resources to combat rising violent crime should not happen at the expense of the consent decree's mandate for better training, supervision and accountability within the department.
Police reform is nonnegotiable. Chicago cannot revert to the culture in place at CPD at the time of the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald, the unarmed teen shot 16 times by a police officer. On Aug. 9, we saw what the fallout looks like when the department fails to rein in rogue officers.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced last week the overturning of murder convictions against seven people whose cases were tainted by allegations of misconduct by Reynaldo Guevara, a former Chicago police detective. Several of the people exonerated had spent decades in prison.
Foxx did not oppose post-conviction petitions in those seven cases, clearing the way for those convictions to be vacated. She is doing the same for an eighth individual, whose case is pending. In all, 31 convictions have been overturned since 2016 in connection with Guevara's alleged misconduct, which includes claims that range from manipulating witnesses to fabricating evidence.
Police work like that doesn't build trust in the community. It decimates it.
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