Black Lives Matter and a coalition of other community groups have won a seat at the table as the city of Chicago and the state attorney general’s office hash out a consent decree that would guide reforms to the troubled Chicago Police Department, reports the Chicago Tribune. The agreement comes on the heels of three lawsuits filed last year against the city, urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to allow a federal judge to oversee an overhaul of the Police Department in the wake of a U.S. Department of Justice report that found the department was deficient in training and supervision and prone to excessive force, especially against minorities. Word of the agreement came Tuesday evening as news organizations devoted their resources to covering the primary election certain to dominate headlines. The community groups, a coalition of legal firms and the ACLU of Illinois — all plaintiffs in the pending federal lawsuits — hailed the 10-page agreement, filed in federal court, as a major step in the fight for federal oversight of the Police Department. The agreement will give a prominent role to community groups that have been staunchly critical of police and the city’s oversight and discipline of officers. If precedent holds, Tuesday night’s news will not sit well with police union leaders, who have complained that officers are unfairly portrayed as prone to misconduct. Under the agreement, the community groups can provide input as the city and the attorney general’s office continue to negotiate the terms of the consent decree. And once the decree is in place, they can object if it is inadequate or push for enforcement if the Police Department fails to follow through on its commitments. Following the appointment of an independent monitor overseen by a federal judge, the community groups have been promised quarterly meetings with the monitor — outside the presence of city and state officials — to discuss the city’s compliance with the consent decree, according to the agreement. “It’s really setting up the community groups as watchdogs that will have a role to make sure that reform really continues no matter what happens as politicians come and go,” Kathy Hunt Muse, an ACLU staff attorney, told the Tribune. “The city and the attorney general still need to do the hard work here of hammering out the terms of the consent decree, and we really hope that now that we’ve defined this role for involving the community that they’re going to move quickly to draft that consent decree.” The agreement reaffirms “our commitment to a transparent process and (supports) our promise that the public will have opportunities to provide input as we take this next step on Chicago’s road to reform,” Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement. The community groups agreed to put a hold on their lawsuits for now but could move to revive them if the consent decree hasn’t been filed in federal court before Sept. 1.
The ACLU’s lawsuit in October alleged that Chicago’s police reform efforts have neglected how officers are trained to handle people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. The suit sought a permanent injunction to block the city from continuing what it calls its current practices “of using unlawful force against black and Latino people and individuals with disabilities.”