A top adviser to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot resigned in August while raising concerns about the city’s ability to “keep moving the ball forward” on its violence prevention efforts and Police Department consent decree implementation, records obtained by the Tribune show.
Lightfoot’s one-time deputy mayor for public safety, Susan Lee, left that post in fall 2020 but remained involved at City Hall as an unpaid consultant on public safety issues, according to a contract between Lee and the city.
Part of her adviser role included consent decree implementation, according to the agreement.
Lee sent Lightfoot chief of staff Sybil Madison and current Deputy Mayor for Public Safety John O’Malley an email on Aug. 2 seeking to “clarify” her role as senior adviser. In the email, on which she also copied Lightfoot, Lee said she’d been trying to “connect” with the mayor “for weeks” but had been unsuccessful.
Lee also noted that she was being blocked from attending consent decree meetings by O’Malley, despite it being a key item in her contract.
“I have been told by Public Safety staff who was directed by John that I should no longer attend weekly reform meetings between mayor’s office and CPD,” Lee wrote.
Lightfoot replied two minutes later that she would call Lee. A day later, Lee submitted a resignation letter to corporation counsel Celia Meza where Lee noted several initiatives she’d spent time on, including a violence reduction program in West Garfield Park and the consent decree.
“As I leave these streams of work behind, I worry that mayor’s public safety team does not have enough capacity to keep moving the ball forward,” Lee wrote in the email, which the Tribune obtained through a public records request.
Lee’s resignation came one week before Chad Williams, the former civilian commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s audit division, wrote Lightfoot to say he had been proud to lead the unit but had become disillusioned and was resigning his post.
“Unfortunately, my disappointment with the inability of this department’s top leadership to even feign interest in pursuing reform in a meaningful manner has made it impossible for me to remain involved,” Williams wrote in the email, as previously reported by the Tribune. “Even more unfortunate is that my experience is far from unique. Many well-meaning and talented civilians have signed up to help improve the nation’s (second largest) police department, only to find themselves steadily thwarted by its perverse incentive structures until they inevitably depart due to demoralization.”
The mayor and police Superintendent David Brown often speak about the importance of the consent decree, which they say is critical for restoring trust in police by Chicago residents, especially Black and brown citizens.
Lightfoot’s office declined to comment on Lee’s resignation and letter.
“The Mayor’s Office of Public Safety works regularly with the Chicago Police Department and a variety of other relevant stakeholders to ensure that the CPD’s compliance with the consent decree remains on track and moving forward with all deliberate speed,” a spokesman said in a statement. “The Public Safety team also works tirelessly to ensure that the Chicago Police Department and all other public safety departments operate successfully and in line with the goals and values of this administration. This hard work is reflected in the significant improvements in consent decree compliance as reflected in the most recent reports by the independent monitor.”
In response to a request for comment, Lee told the Tribune Lightfoot did not call her after she said she would. Asked if she’s still concerned about violence reduction and the consent decree, Lee said in an email that Chicago’s mayor has a “lean staff on all fronts” and has “a capacity challenge even in the best of times.”
“With the city’s violence in 2021 surpassing the unprecedented spike in 2020, we are all working hard but stretched thin to reverse this trend,” Lee wrote. “I, as every other Chicagoan I am sure, hope that we will see progress on the violence reduction front as well as meaningful CPD reform including but not limited to consent decree implementation.”
Since leaving her post as City Hall adviser, Lee has publicly raised concerns about Chicago’s street violence.
A month after Lee resigned, she co-wrote an article with Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea in which they declared Chicago a “city in crisis.”
“It is hard to look at the number of shootings and homicides in Chicago over the last 20 months and find a silver lining,” Lee and O’Shea wrote in the column, published by the Sun-Times. “By every measure, our city is in crisis and our efforts to keep our communities and our police safe are simply falling short.”
City statistics show the number of shooting victims is up year-to-date through Nov. 7, from 3,528 in 2020 to 3,852 in 2021. Homicides are also up, from 677 in 2020 to 698.
Lightfoot ran for mayor as a police reform advocate and vowed during the campaign that she would ensure “full and swift compliance” with the court order, though her administration has been criticized repeatedly by activists for failing to meet deadlines set by a court-appointed monitor and ensure true reform.
Williams’ email and Lee’s resignation demonstrate that the concern has also been shared within the administration.
A department spokeswoman previously said CPD has been making “significant progress” in its reform efforts, citing the most recent monitor report’s recent determination that CPD reached “some level of compliance in 266″ areas of reform, which the decree refers to as “paragraphs.”
“This is the highest amount of paragraphs achieving some level of compliance after the two-year mark compared to any other American city that has undergone a consent decree,” the spokeswoman said. “During this period, we also received preliminary compliance in our full suite of use of force policies for the first time. We’ve also increased the number of mandatory annual training hours for in-service officers from 0 prior to the consent decree, to 40 hours in 2021.”
Police Department leaders have sought to deflect criticism of their pace of meeting consent decree reforms and touted a report by an independent court-appointed monitor that noted increased compliance.
But that nearly 1,000-page report also underscored problems related to foot pursuit data and policy during a period that included the March police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo after a foot pursuit.
“Throughout this reporting period, the (independent monitor) repeatedly requested the city and the CPD provide an explanation regarding what transpired with the foot pursuit dashboard data, including what led to the data issues,” the report read. “To date, we still do not have many of these answers, and have only received partial explanations regarding the scope of the data issues and plans ahead.”
Chicago Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner contributed.