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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot On Her City's Response To Unrest Over Police Violence


Police reform is the issue that made a lawyer named Lori Lightfoot a political presence in Chicago when she was head of the Chicago Police Board. Of course, she is now Mayor Lightfoot of Chicago and said this week that police misconduct and brutality, quote, "tarnish the badge." Mayor Lightfoot joins us now. Mayor Lightfoot, thanks for being with us.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: It's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: You've led investigations into brutality cases when you were head of the police board and the CPD's Office of Professional Standards. Must also be said that as an attorney in private practice, you represented some police officers. How difficult is police reform?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, having seen this issue from a lot of different angles - I also prosecuted corrupt police officers when I was a federal prosecutor. So I've been around this issue for a long time, and really, it comes down to this. You can have all the policies that you want, and I think the Chicago Police Department has policies that would be the equivalent of two New York City police departments, but it really comes down to changing the culture. And the culture lies, in a lot of ways, with the supervision. So we've placed a lot of emphasis this week - we, meaning the public and the media - on the actions of individual officers, but what I want to know is what's happening at the supervision level.

I just read a story this morning - which I didn't realize that the officer who killed George Floyd was a training officer. And the other three officers that were there were essentially rookies, some that were barely on the job a couple of months, so they were following the lead of that senior officer. And unfortunately, he led them to the killing of an innocent man and to now being on trial for their lives.

So the supervision is critically important. You've got to think about how you hire, how you train and how you hold those supervisors accountable because that's where the culture lies, particularly at the first level of supervision. And we've got a ways to go in Chicago, but I'm committed and determined to make sure that we get it right.

SIMON: I have to ask, Mayor Lightfoot. You're a Democrat. Democrats support unions. In your experience, do police unions sometimes block reforms?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, it's an interesting question because in our - in Chicago, the Chicago Federation of Labor has literally, you know, every unit you can think of except the police units. They view themselves separately. And, yes, unfortunately, in the history in our city, and I think the history of other cities, unions are extraordinarily reluctant to embrace reform. And that's the current state of affairs here. We've had to take them to arbitration to win very modest reforms. And that's a shame of the history of collective bargaining, where there hasn't been an emphasis on reform and accountability. I said to people the first time I read the FOP contract back in the early 2000s I assumed it was a draft of their wish list and not something that the employer, the city of Chicago, had agreed to. These contracts are a significant problem and challenge in getting the reforms necessary.

SIMON: And I have to ask you a coronavirus question...


SIMON: ...Mayor Lightfoot. Any concerns that protests are going to promote coronavirus infections just when they were on the way down?

LIGHTFOOT: Yeah, 110%. I mean, it seems unusual to be saying, peacefully protest, but, by the way, try to social distance, wear a mask, wear gloves. No, we are deeply concerned about a surge based upon the gatherings that we've seen over the course of this last week at a time when we have turned a corner and started to cautiously reopen.

SIMON: Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, thanks so much for being with us.

LIGHTFOOT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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