Mayor Rahm Emanuel could have responded sooner to the Chicago Police Department problems identified last week in a harshly critical U.S. Department of Justice report, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday.
Preckwinkle also said, though, she's "pleased" that Emanuel said he'll continue to try to change the department whether or not President-elect Donald Trump's administration pursues a federal court order.
"I would have wished that he would have responded to some of the difficulties sooner than he did," Preckwinkle said, while also noting some issues in the report began decades before Emanuel took office in 2011. "My hope going forward is he is aggressive in his efforts to improve the quality of policing in our communities, particularly black and brown neighborhoods."
Emanuel spokesman Matt McGrath responded politely, saying that "we appreciate President Preckwinkle's support" and that the mayor and Police Department leaders "will continue on the road to reform."
The mayor has implemented several changes at the department since federal officials began investigating 13 months ago, after the city was ordered by a judge to release a police dash-cam video of white Officer Jason Van Dyke repeatedly shooting black teen Laquan McDonald.
Although the report praised some of Emanuel's efforts, it found others to be insufficient and made clear much work remains to repair the department and restore community trust of police on the street.
Emanuel signed an agreement in principle with the Justice Department to work toward drafting a consent decree — a court document detailing reforms that would be overseen by an independent monitor appointed by a federal judge. Whether a Republican Trump administration, with an attorney general nominee who has been dismissive of such decrees, would follow through on a plan launched under Democratic President Barack Obama is unknown.
"I think the nominee to be attorney general has a very troubled past when it comes to racial issues," Preckwinkle said, referring to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. "And I'm unpersuaded that he has transformed himself over time. Given that belief, it's unclear to me whether he would hold the city accountable for abuses in the Police Department, and therefore I think the burden is on the mayor to pursue the reforms that are necessary."
Preckwinkle also said she was "pleased that the mayor has said he'll push ahead with the long-needed changes the report identifies."
She said 95 percent of police "officers are good and decent people who work very hard every day at a very difficult job," but also decried "pervasive racism that afflicts the department institutionally, and too many of its officers individually."
A former longtime South Side alderman, Preckwinkle said she has done what she can as leader of county government to address the issue by appointing Amy Campanelli as public defender, helping get Kim Foxx elected state's attorney and successfully working with the chief judge and sheriff to significantly reduce the number of people held at the jail awaiting trial who are accused of nonviolent crimes.
"We're working on the side of the equation that is our responsibility: the criminal justice system, the courts, the jails," Preckwinkle said. "What goes on in the Chicago Police Department is on the city of Chicago."