U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is wrong.
Recently, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice will object in federal court to the Chicago police consent decree negotiated by the city and the Illinois attorney general. Sessions cites a 2015 agreement between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois — one focused on correcting unlawful “stop and frisk” practices — as contributing to the city’s 2016 spike in violence. Sessions warned that “the safety of Chicago” depends on not repeating the mistake with a policing consent decree.
Last year, when I resigned as U.S. attorney in Chicago, I issued an open letter in which I cited the ACLU deal as a contributor to the drag on officer stops in 2016. I named other extraordinary events, including the release of the Laquan McDonald video, the firing of CPD’s police chief and the launch of a DOJ civil rights investigation of CPD, all of which occurred in the last six weeks of 2015, as contributors as well.
Last month, in a speech in Palatine, Sessions quoted from my letter, which he called “honest and important.” He referenced only the ACLU portion of the letter and used that to support his theme that such agreements hamper police and inflame violence.
If Sessions had read the rest of my letter, he would know that my No. 1 recommendation to curb violent crime in Chicago was that we get a broad federal consent decree for CPD — one that goes well beyond addressing “stop and frisk” and guarantees Chicago police officers the training, supervision, equipment and support they need to succeed.
Editorial: Memo to Jeff Sessions on policing in Chicago »
For decades, Chicago has suffered a demoralizing epidemic of gun violence. Year after year, the city’s murder rate fluctuates while the basic paradigm remains constant: kids dying, kids killing, and a few South and West side neighborhoods unfairly and disproportionately impacted by gun violence.
You cannot solve that entrenched epidemic without a top-flight police department.
What we have had instead is a CPD that for decades has been run on the cheap. Our officers have not received the resources they deserve, which over time impacts culture and morale.
In every decade since the 1960s, major controversies over excessive force and broken accountability have plagued Chicago police. And decade after decade, politicians have made commitments and launched reform initiatives, but those commitments and initiatives, despite often good intentions, have never stuck. Through no fault of the brave women and men of CPD, vagaries and shifting winds of politics and power have let them and the people of Chicago down.
The breadth of changes necessary at CPD, coupled with its sheer size, mean that reform will take years. Even with a consent decree, a strong judge and an independent monitor, it will be years — five, seven, maybe more — before the ship has turned in a way that is meaningful and lasting.
Letter: Jeff Sessions makes a good case for police reform — on accident »
That means oversight has to be taken out of the context of local politics, which change, and local priorities, which shift. Entering into a federal consent decree guarantees independent and apolitical oversight in the form of a U.S. District Court judge.
That is not big-government micromanaging; that is good government — local, state and federal, working together and manifesting the checks and balances at the heart of our Constitution.
What’s at stake here is not just constitutional policing. Lives are at stake. People are dying. Children are dying. Our city suffers, year after year.
Law enforcement is not the entire solution, but it’s a big part. A consent decree will give our cops support, training and the credibility they need to engage in effective and constitutional policing. A consent decree will give our South and West side citizens greater trust in our officers and institutions, and greater safety in their neighborhoods.
If Sessions spent more time in violence-afflicted neighborhoods, he would know that we still have kids who are growing up more afraid of police than of gangs. When that changes, we mark the beginning of a new Chicago. Sessions is wrong about the CPD consent decree. Those who know and love this great city must hold true.
Zachary Fardon is a former U.S. attorney who now is a partner with the Chicago office of King & Spalding.
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