Black Legislators Call For Licensing Police, In Wake Of Laquan McDonald Shooting

Dec 8, 2015

Credit flickr.com/appleswitch (Creative Commons)

  So far, it seems no police officers have been disciplined for helping conceal the circumstances under which Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald was killed. Because of that, a group of black lawmakers say Illinois should consider licensing police.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul says police often aren't punished because of their union contracts. The Chicago Democrat says there's a way to bypass that: requiring police to be licensed.

"In the state of Illinois we license a vast majority of professions. We even license barbers, hairdressers. And they have their licenses revoked or suspended. However those who walk around with deadly force are not licensed," Raoul said Tuesday. 

Raoul, a lawyer, says it's similar to how a wronged citizen could bypass his employer and try to have him disbarred.

A newly-formed state commission on police professionalism is set to consider the idea; several members of the Fraternal Order of Police are members. A spokesman for the FOP says the union will carefully watch the deliberations. He says if police licensure is addressed, it should apply to anyone who carries a badge and a gun, including park district and part time police who haven't traditionally been certified by a state law enforcement commission.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Chicago Police Department following the McDonald's death and the subsequent fallout. A Chicago police officer was taped shooting McDonald 16 times. He wasn't charged for more than a year, and not until a judge ordered the video be made released.

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus says that federal investigation into the Chicago Police should expand to include the Cook County state's attorney's office and Chicago's police review board.

In a letter to the U.S. Attorney General the caucus writes: "In order to restore the trust of all Chicagoans, particularly communities of color, in law enforcement, it is necessary to examine and address not only the police department itself but the entire chain of response."

The McDonald incident has captured attention nationwide and led to increased scrutiny of Chicago's mayor and other leaders. Already, a major state law regulating police is set to take effect January 1, but more changes could be on the way. The new law forbids chokeholds, requires police to receive cultural competency training, and sets standards for use of body cameras.

"At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is improve the quality of policing statewide," Representative Elgie Sims, a Democrat from Chicago, said. "It's not just the city of Chicago. It's the quality of policing services in Danville and in Champaign and in Peoria. So we're trying to improve the quality of policing services everywhere."

Now members are also eyeing further changes to state law. In addition to trying to licensing police, they're considering plans to make body cameras mandatory and revamping the Freedom of Information Act so more police videos would be made public.