The firing of the city’s police reform chief is a step in the wrong direction

Chicago needs to send a clear and sustained message from the top of the police department down if police reform is going to succeed.

The firing this week of Robert Boik, the police chief overseeing the Chicago Police Department’s court-ordered reform efforts, does not send that message. Instead, it’s a step in the wrong direction.

What message does it send when a leader is reportedly fired just after standing up for what his office needs – a number of police officers dedicated to reform work – in order to achieve the goals of the consent decree? ?

“Reforms to consent decrees are absolutely necessary to make policing effective in Chicago,” Alexandra Block, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told the Sun-Times. “It stands to reason that if a significant portion of the personnel assigned to this department are no longer available for consent decree compliance work, that work will simply not be done. This shows that the mayor and superintendent are not prioritizing reform enough. »

“No cause for concern”

In 2018, the CPD entered into a police reform consent decree with the Illinois Attorney General’s office after a year-long investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that the CPD suffered a lack of responsibility for officers, a pervasive and disproportionate code of silence. use of force. The executive order, signed into law in 2019 and overseen by a federal judge, set goals and timelines for achieving reform and aimed to end mistrust of the police, making communities and officers safer. .

In Independent Monitor Maggie Hickey’s latest report in April, Hickey, a former federal prosecutor, found that the police department had achieved some level of compliance with 380 of the consent decree’s 523 paragraphs. After Boik’s departure, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there was no reason to fear the CPD would not meet its obligations.

But the department has already missed deadlines and been criticized for boasting about minor progress. The firing of Boik, who since 2020 served as executive director of the Office of Constitutional Policing and Police Department Reform, does not inspire confidence that the CPD will suddenly begin to improve — especially because the departure de Boik was preceded by a decision in March to push back the deadline for full compliance from five to eight years.

Officially, regarding Boik’s departure, CPD said it does not comment on personnel matters. But according to sources with knowledge of the move, Boik was fired after sending an email criticizing the superintendent of police. David Brown’s decision to move 46 officers under Boik’s supervision to the Bureau of Patrol.

Listen, we understand that city residents are concerned about crime, and it’s Brown’s job to find ways to lower crime rates. And, yes, police reform is difficult and has been hampered by the onset of the pandemic. And the CPD is understaffed, with officers regularly having their vacation days cancelled.

But moving officers away from implementing reform raises serious questions about whether the department will meet its goal of having police officers trained in reform for 40 hours a year.

Boik reportedly wrote in an email that with the transfer, no police officer would receive the 40 hours of training this year.

Boik, who served as chief of staff to three police commissioners, including Brown, was known to be highly respected and a straight shooter. Tina Skahill, who served as a deputy under Brown and was previously a seasoned police officer, was named to replace Boik. We hope she demonstrates a strong commitment to reform – which, if done well, will benefit the entire department as well as the community that the DPC serves.

For the reform to succeed, officers need to be well trained and the department as a whole needs to build trust with communities. The slow pace of reform goals is concerning – and yes, we know that other cities have typically taken around 10 years to fully implement reform goals.

Now Boik’s dismissal adds to that concern. The reform concerns more than one person, of course. But we’d hate to think this is another case of a whistleblower being shown the door.

Now is not the time to allow reform to stagnate or recede.

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