Wanted: Straight Talk About Chicago Police Training
On the evening of July 3, when most of us were enjoying barbecues, fireworks and other holiday weekend festivities, City Hall was making a big police announcement.
It wasn’t Mayor Rahm Emanuel accepting federal court oversight of police reform in Chicago. The mayor stubbornly refuses to cede control to federal authorities who aren’t accountable to city residents, even if that hardline opposition jeopardizes his re-election prospects.
And it wasn’t a major development in the Laquan McDonald case, which has circled around but never implicated top officials at the Chicago Police Department and City Hall who viewed the videotape and knew how the fatal shooting went down but never challenged the cover-up.
No—this announcement was about brick and mortar, not brittle mortals: The Emanuel administration releasing plans for a state-of-the-art facility for fire and police training. In the heated debate over police accountability there’s one thing experts, activists and cops seem to agree on: Officers need better training, and more of it.
And by locating the new facility in Garfield Park, a violence-plagued community on the West Side, the City was sending a signal to recruits and the rest of Chicago: Training will be where the rubber meets the road.
So far so good, but the plan leaves us with important questions and serious concerns. The city pegs the cost of the project, including land acquisition, at $95 million, but that’s only an estimate, and the funding mechanism is dubious—the underperforming Chicago Infrastructure Trust the mayor created to structure public-private partnerships that have been more of an “Infrastructure Bust” for lack of private sector interest.
The city already has an agency that manages construction projects—the Public Building Commission—so why put an undertaking of this size and magnitude in the hands of a new entity with a shaky funding model?
That’s a key question as City Hall, and Emanuel in particular, try to rebuild trust with communities most affected by violence and police misconduct. Chicago residents need straight answers about the scope and funding of this project. Clear, transparent vision and sound strategy not only represent good leadership — they’re an important measure of accountability.
The press release announcing the new facility also contained zero information about plans for revamping the training at the new academy. CPD can certainly benefit from new digs, but the public should also be interested in what happens inside those walls. In March, Supt. Eddie Johnson released a laundry list of reforms, including a new committee to review training at all levels.
That’s long overdue, but an elevated level of training is already under way, with new recruits visiting the DuSable Museum of African American History to deepen their cultural awareness, and every officer reviewing CPD’s new use-of-force guidelines and receiving additional instruction on crisis intervention strategies.
So how will the committee’s findings be incorporated into ongoing training programs? Maybe there’s a comprehensive strategy that’s being tracked and adjusted along the way, but it’s still time for another update on police reform from the mayor and his Top Cop.
In addition to questions about the new facility and its training programs we’d like the latest details on efforts to diversify the police force, goals for the new police union contracts, and plans for settling open records lawsuits.
Accurate, real-time information is one of the best salves for the wounds cops and communities have suffered over decades of violence, and it’s essential if Emanuel hopes to convince skeptical Chicagoans that police reform is possible without a federal judge calling the shots.