In one corner of Chicago were 14,000 law enforcement leaders, lots of probing seminars, and President Obama. In another were 200 activists with signs and bullhorns. The Christian Science Monitor says that for the past four days, Chicago has been ground zero for the movement to reform policing. It was the scene of the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference and the “I Shocked the Sheriff” counterconference, aimed at holding the police to account. Their views of whether anything has improved since protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., 14 months ago are radically different. “We're policing smarter, we're policing better,” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at IACP, echoing others. “I think [the police] may be more aware of the problems that are happening in police departments, but I don't think there's been any real change,” counters Camesha Jones of the Black Youth Project 100's Chicago chapter, which led the protests. The two conferences here have shown in real time the gulf that still lies between police and activists representing blacks.
“I've been doing this work for 30 years, and I've never seen such a spirit of openness and trying to figure out what's appropriate for policing as I've seen here,” says Tom Tyler, a Yale University professor of law and psychology, who spoke at IACP. “If you had looked at most meetings of police leaders 10 years ago, they would have been dominated by discussions about how to control crime. After Ferguson, police commanders became aware that there was an additional issue that they needed to be aware about, which was how their actions were being viewed within the community.” Tyler says “procedural justice” training programs have shown “dramatic declines in civilian complaints” about the police, and that they have been gaining traction in police departments.