The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday that it has not reached an agreement with the city of Chicago on federal oversight of police reform as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has suggested.
When Emanuel’s office trickled out the news late Friday that the mayor was backing away from a written commitment to seek federal court oversight of police reform, the administration characterized a new arrangement with President Donald Trump’s Justice Department as “an agreement in principle.”
But Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said Emanuel’s office had just sent the proposal to Washington that same day, and that the Trump administration had not agreed to anything, including using a memorandum of agreement as the approach for police reform.
“The city of Chicago sent the Justice Department their proposed memorandum of understanding last week. There is no agreement at this time,” O’Malley said in a statement Wednesday. “We look forward to working with the city to finding a resolution that promotes public safety and protects civil rights.”
Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins issued a statement late Wednesday saying that “the draft agreement submitted to DOJ by the city last week is exactly that, a draft. But it follows months of discussions with DOJ and an agreement on the approach.”
The mayor and his office have described the new approach on police reform as including an independent monitor who would oversee police reforms, but that it would not include the mandatory court enforcement of a consent decree. Emanuel’s office has declined to release a copy of the plan it sent to the Justice Department, and O’Malley declined to discuss any details of the city’s proposal, citing ongoing discussions.
O’Malley also would not say whether the possibility of a consent decree remained on the table. He also declined to say whether Emanuel proposed backing off from the federal court oversight or whether it came at the suggestion of the new Justice Department leadership. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled a departure from federally enforced consent decrees and civil rights investigations like the one conducted in Chicago.
The mayor has ignored questions this week on who initiated the decision to move away from federal court oversight of the police reforms, a commitment the mayor made in January after then-President Barack Obama’s Justice Department completed a civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department. At the time, federal officials issued a damning report that found a pattern of excessive force and misconduct in the department.
City Hall assurances that “have not yielded results.”
Collins said in a statement that the city already had moved forward on “meaningful reform,” including adding more body cameras and officers and changing the Police Department’s use-of-force policy.
“This is a discussion about a framework when the discussion should be about the substantive reforms,” Collins said in response to the ACLU criticisms. “We are working hard on negotiations with DOJ and we believe an independent monitor with a public reporting process will help drive those substantive reforms in Chicago, as it has in other cities.”
The ACLU, however, said anything short of a consent decree will not be enough to drive true, lasting changes.
“The only real path to police reform in Chicago is through a consent decree overseen by a federal judge,” Sheley said. “That is what the city committed to when the DOJ completed its scathing report in January. Now is not the time to back away.”