PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday February 16th, 2016, 5:34pm

Chicago Leaders Discuss Police-Community Relations As Coalition Calls For Special Prosecutor In McDonald Case (UPDATED)

The Chicago Urban League and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform co-hosted a panel discussion on police-community relations Tuesday afternoon, the same day a group of lawyers, elected leaders and clergymen filed a petition for a special prosecutor in the Laquan McDonald case.

Expanding the Chicago Police Department's partnerships with young people was among several key recommendations made at a Tuesday afternoon panel discussion on how to improve police-community relations in the wake of the Laquan McDonald case and other high-profile police shootings in the city.

Community advocates and Chicago police spoke at the event, co-hosted by the Chicago Urban League and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. 

"We have to allow young people to be part of the process" of strengthening relationships between police and the local communities they serve, said retired Chicago police officer Richard Wooten. 

Many young people "want to be involved" and "want to make some recommendations, but no one has given them that space," he added.

Eric Washington, the CPD's deputy chief of community policing, was on the panel. He said each Chicago police district works with a "youth subcommittee." The department, Washington said, is looking to create a citywide youth panel that would discuss policing and community issues with Chicago's police superintendent and other top CPD officials.

"That [youth subcommittee] mechanism is being built out," he said.

The panel discussion was held the same day a group of lawyers, elected officials and clergymen filed a petition in Cook County Circuit Court seeking a special prosecutor in the case against Jason Van Dyke, the officer involved in McDonald's shooting death.

Calls for a special prosecutor come as Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez is locked in a fierce re-election battle. The petition contends that Alvarez and her office are facing "an unprecedented crisis of confidence" and should not handle the case's prosecution. The coalition argues that Alvarez's relationship with the police union represents a "conflict of interest and disqualifies" her from prosecuting the case. 

For her part, Alvarez denied the existence of a conflict of interest and questioned the timing of the special prosecutor request, which is backed by supporters of her top challenger Kim Foxx. 

"This case is no different -- Jason Van Dyke should be prosecuted by experienced Cook County state's attorneys using the resources gathered during the thorough joint investigation with federal authorities," Alvarez's statement added. "It is clear that there is no legal conflict in this case, and prosecution will proceed to hold Jason Van Dyke accountable for the murder of Laquan McDonald." 

Foxx released a statement upon news of the petition for a special prosecutor. 

"I have long called for an independent prosecutor in the Laquan McDonald case, because it is clear the public cannot trust Anita Alvarez to fairly and adequately prosecute this trial," Foxx said. "I have also called for an independent prosecutor to investigate all police-involved shootings, because an inherent conflict of interest exists whenever the state's attorney must prosecute a police-involved shooting due to the necessarily close relationship between the police and the prosecutor's office. This is a necessary first step in rebuilding faith with the community."

Rufus Williams, CEO of the BBF Family Services in North Lawndale, spoke at Tuesday's event, held at the Chicago Urban League, 4510 S. Michigan Ave.

He suggested the idea of establishing a "truth and reconciliation" process to help rebuild public trust in the police department. 

"When you have situations where our children, our mothers, our grandmothers have been killed and lied upon and covered up, it is almost impossible to develop a better level of trust without impacting the entire system," he said. "One, we need transparency ... We know that there are people out there policing right now who lied on reports, and they haven't been dealt with ... We have to deal with those people. We have to deal with every known wrong infraction ... Truth and reconciliation, or whatever you want to call it, we need to deal with that. We need to clarify that. We need to have transparency going forward." 

Most panelists said "cultural awareness" and minority representation in the police department should also be improved. According to CPD numbers provided to the media in November, whites make up 52 percent of the department, followed by blacks at 23 percent, Hispanics at 22 percent and Asians at 3 percent.

"The police who I see ... are rarely reflective of those who are in the North Lawndale community," Williams said. 

Washington sought to make the case for having communities policed by a racially diverse group of officers.

"Do we want to build a force where in Englewood we only have African-American officers?" Washington asked. "Where's the exposure ... to other races?"

"I understand the cultural sensitivity that's needed," he added, "but we have to have exposure here in the city of Chicago."

Mental health training for Chicago police was another topic raised during Tuesday's event.

Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the expansion of crisis intervention training (CIT) for police and 911 operators. As part of the changes, the number of officers fully certified in CIT will increase this year from 1,890 to 2,800. The police department already has CIT-trained personnel "in every district and on every watch," Washington said.

The 40-hour CIT training course is voluntary for officers.

Wooten called for improved mental health training for all police officers.

"Unfortunately," he said, "we're not trained well enough to deal with (a mental health) situation, but we've been given a task to deal with that situation, so (voluntary training) is great, but there has to be some type of a introductory training so that officers would have an understanding of the different types of" mental illnesses. 

Washington noted that curriculum for police academy participants covers how to handle mental health crisis situations. 

"Every officer gets some information on dealing with people (with) mental issues," he said, adding that CIT training is "an enhanced course." 

"The reason that everybody doesn't get (CIT training) is capacity," Washington said. "It's the fact that we have to work with our partners that do the training."

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Chicago teaches 25 hours of the local CIT course. 

"What the mayor has pushed is that we increase the capacity so that 25 percent of the police department is CIT trained, which is best practice," said panelist Alexa James, NAMI Chicago's executive director. "It shouldn't be a mandatory program. You want people in their who are willing to do this work, because they're gonna be the best responders." 

UPDATE 6:10 p.m.: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a change in city policy Tuesday regarding when evidence in police-involved shootings and use of force incidents should be released to the public. Under the new policy, recommended by the mayor's police accountability task force, the city's Independent Police Review Authority will release videos and other evidence within 60 days of such incidents. Law enforcement agencies can request a delay of up to 30 days in certain situations. 

Emanuel released the following statement Tuesday about the new policy: 

Earlier today, the Task Force on Police Accountability recommended a new City policy on the release of evidence, including videos, in police-involved shootings and other serious incidents. I embrace their recommendations and will work to ensure they become the rule going forward. Restoring trust between our police and the communities they're sworn to serve is an essential part of our City's public safety efforts, and this is an important step as we continue that work. Simply put, the longstanding policy the City followed for decades is out of date and this new policy strikes a better balance of ensuring transparency for the public while also ensuring any criminal or disciplinary investigations are not compromised. While this new policy is an important step forward, our work is far from finished as we continue to address issues that have plagued the City for decades. We will continue taking additional steps to make our communities safer while also ensuring that we are as transparent as possible, and that those police officers who do violate the public's trust are held accountable.


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