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Report questions effectiveness of Chicago’s consent decree

(The Center Square) – As Minneapolis proceeds in a consent decree approved on July 13, 2023, a new report questions the effectiveness of consent decrees previously implemented in Chicago.

The report from Manhattan Institute fellow Charles Fain Lehman analyzed the success rate of consent decrees, using the Chicago Consent Decree as a test case.

Lehman finds across a variety of measures, from the number of police killings to complaints against officers, that the Chicago consent decree seems to have had little effect on CPD’s behavior, or public perception thereof.

He questions whether federal monitorship can alleviate a longstanding culture of dysfunction and poor community relations and whether such oversight is an effective tool for police reform.

In 2019, Chicago was placed under a federal consent decree requiring sweeping mandates and an independent monitor. The change followed the 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago Police Officer.

The decree is ongoing, but the city still paid $250 million in police settlements from 2018-2020 while under the decree, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

While the consent decree process is not yet finished- the city has until 2027 to reach compliance – Lehman concludes that prior research and Chicago’s lack of progress thus far suggest that efforts to reform police departments using consent decrees are a gamble.

Lehman found “very little movement” in important police metrics since the consent decree was implemented, which raises questions about its impact.

“Simply the will to make the cops better isn’t adequate,” Lehman said in a phone interview. “You have to have an evidence-informed intervention. I think there are cases where consent decrees have worked, cases where they backfired disastrously, and cases in which they did nothing at all.”

During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice used consent decrees more aggressively than any previous administration by opening 24 pattern-or-practice investigations.

“The consent decree’s failure to produce meaningful reform may be the result of unwillingness on the part of CPD and the city to embrace reform,” the report says. “Alternatively, the consent decree’s ineffectiveness may be attributed to preexisting reforms that the CPD has already implemented on its own before the consent decree took effect. Both of these explanations, however, cast doubt on the viability of the federal investigation and consent decree process as a tool for achieving police reform.”

Minneapolis entered into a consent decree after the DOJ found the Minneapolis Police Department and the city of Minneapolis engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

The DOJ said the city and police have agreed to resolve the department’s findings through a court-enforceable consent decree with an independent monitor, rather than through contested litigation. The Justice Department found that the police:

  • Use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force and unreasonable use of tasers.
  • Unlawfully discriminate against Black people and Native American people in its enforcement activities
  • Violate the rights of people engaged in protected speech.
  • Along with the city, discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to calls for assistance

On May 25, 2020, officers of the Minneapolis Police Department officers killed George Floyd, a video that much of the United States watched in shock and called for change. It’s unclear if the consent decree will deliver that change.


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