Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Chicago’s consent decree is ‘colossal mistake’

By Alexandra Yetter, Staff Reporter

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions condemned Chicago’s politicians for micromanaging police officers through the consent decree, which would require officers to file a report every time they draw their weapons, among other changes to the police department. Sessions called the decree vague and insulting to the police department.

“This agreement is a colossal mistake,” Sessions said in his Oct. 19 address to the Chicago Crime Commission at Chicago’s Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd. “Decades of hard work was tossed away; police were demoralized. All of America needs to understand this lesson.”

In August 2015, Chicago agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the practice of “stop and frisks” in compliance with the Fourth Amendment and the Illinois Civil Rights Act. In his address, Sessions condemned this decision and said it caused the murder rate to skyrocket in the city due to reduced arrests.

“If you don’t stop people, then you don’t find illegal guns,” Sessions said.

Second Vice President for the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Martin Preib said the FOP was ecstatic with Sessions’ speech and welcomed the prospect of new, constitutional stop and frisk policies in Chicago.

“The narrative being pushed in Chicago is the police are the villains, and it’s a false narrative,” Preib said. “It’s made by politicians for political gain. Sessions recognizes that, as does President Trump.”

The consent decree was filed with the federal court by the mayor’s office and the Chicago Police Department Sept. 13, two weeks before the conviction of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was found guilty of second-degree murder for the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Sessions said Van Dyke’s conviction does not reinforce the need for a consent decree, but rather proves officers can be prosecuted.

Sessions also said President Donald Trump is deeply concerned about the city’s violence and homicide numbers, which is why Sessions dispatched several more prosecutors to the city this October per Trump’s orders—more than in any other city in the U.S., Sessions said.

The address by the attorney general drew protests from the Revolution Club Chicago, a communist activist group.

“We’re here to call out Jeff Sessions who was dispensed here by Donald Trump. This is their response to the Van Dyke verdict,” said Joey Johnson, a protester with the Revolution Club. “The strategic [re-implementation] of stop and frisk is extremely dangerous for the masses of people, especially black and Latino people.”

Sessions accused Chicago politicians of using the consent decree to shift responsibility to judges and to retain power in the city after they have left office.

He said the decree would deprive the next mayor of the ability to change policing policies as crime evolves due to the lack of an end date in the decree.

Mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, who was recently endorsed by Chance the Rapper and received a campaign donation from Kanye West, said the decree is not as strong as she would like it to be but is an essential first step to policing reforms in Chicago.

“We have a problem within our police department. It’s an institution in need of reform,” Enyia said. “We have a vested interest in making sure our institutions are operating with the highest level of integrity and effectiveness. We cannot do that if we’re unwilling to acknowledge the things that need to be changed.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been an avid supporter of the consent decree since his administration drafted it in July with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. He released an Oct. 19 statement on his Twitter calling out Sessions.

“Before the AG runs his mouth, he should get educated on what he’s talking about. [Bill] Bratton is America’s top police expert, and yesterday, he praised Chicago’s crime reductions over the past two years,” Emanuel said in the statement.

The Chicago Police Department declined to comment.

Chicago’s homicide rate dropped 15 percent from 2016 to 2017. Despite those statistics, Sessions said the city still had a lot to learn from New York City, which had no reported shootings the weekend of Oct. 12, the first time the city experienced zero shootings during a weekend since 1993, according to New York Police Department records.

Sessions urged Chicago to learn from New York City and put more faith in police officers. He said police are not the problem, they are the solution.

Enyia said the problem does, in fact, lie in the police department, specifically with training and police misconduct lawsuits.

“Sessions’ statement is short-sighted, wrong and lacking in what effective leadership is about,” Enyia said. “Which is the ability to call things as they are and face those issues head-on.”

Correction 10/26/18 at 11:44 a.m.: A previous version of this article said the consent decree included stop and frisk policies, but no such policies are currently included. The Chronicle regrets this error.

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