Chicago police officials announced Wednesday they will adopt a handful of changes to their use of force policies while declining to enact numerous other recommendations from a task force touted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
The five changes to the department’s use of force policies, which reform advocates have criticized as too permissive, appear to be largely symbolic and generally focus on broad philosophical language, rather than technical rules governing officers’ conduct. For example, the department plans to change the name of the main use of force policy to include the words “de-escalation” and “self-restraint.”
The new use of force rules have not been finalized, but as the announcement was imminent one panel member said he felt the group’s work had mostly been disregarded. Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and reform advocate who is on the task force, said he didn’t believe the police changes amounted to meaningful reform and pointed to roughly 150 other recommendations from the panel.
For example, the group called for the department to make it mandatory for officers to try to de-escalate confrontations before using force. The current rules call for cops to use de-escalation tactics “when it is safe and feasible to do so based on the totality of the circumstances.” The panel also called for the department to require officers to intervene when they witness colleagues using excessive force. The current policy calls for cops to do that but offers a loophole for “extraordinary circumstances.”
“The process is a sham that is designed to create the illusion of community engagement just for the purpose of checking a box and for public relations as opposed to actual and true community engagement of listening to, engaging, going back and forth, and learning from folks in the community when it comes to their use of force policy,” Futterman told the Tribune. “CPD has no intention on changing the rules of engagement about when force can be used.”
The changes the department announced Wednesday included expanding its definition of “sanctity of life” to newly spell out that people from various races, genders and other demographic groups should be treated with dignity. The department also plans to refer to “persons” and not “subjects” in its policies.
Deputy Chief Ernest Cato, who co-chairs the committee, defended the changes in an interview with the Tribune.
“We have folks coming from within our community expressing what type of change they would like to be seen done. And, you know, some folks (may say) ‘well, it’s only five (changes),’ ” he said. “Five is a very powerful number in itself. And the department is saying, ‘OK, we hear you and … we are going to take some of your suggestions and we’re going to put them out there.”
The department timed the public release of the planned changes to coincide with a meeting between the task force and the police brass Wednesday night. Department officials hope to have a revamped use of force guidelines in place by next year.
Lightfoot announced the committee in June, the start of a summer of heated street protests against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in late May.
The panel immediately generated controversy after co-chair Arewa Karen Winters — the great aunt of Pierre Loury, who was shot to death by police in 2016 — used the city’s introductory news conference to describe at least some officers as “psychopaths with guns.” Some aldermen and police union officials condemned Winters.
Lightfoot ran for mayor touting her police reformer credentials, but activists have criticized her as too hesitant to make significant changes to policing. The summer’s street protests amplified complaints about the Police Department, as well as calls to cut its budget and fund other services.
While the new revisions add to other changes to the use of force rules in recent years, the city is not the final authority on its own law enforcement policies. That’s because Chicago is under a consent decree, a broad 2019 court order designed to force changes to police policy, supervision, training and the way officers treat people. Former federal prosecutor Maggie Hickey is leading a monitoring team overseeing the implementation of the decree, and U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. can enforce the order.
The order calls for various changes to use of force tactics and requires the study of more potential reforms.
The court order stemmed from a 2017 U.S. Department of Justice report that described Chicago police as poorly trained and supervised and prone to excessive force, particularly against minorities. Federal authorities launched their investigation amid the protests sparked by the November 2015 release of video of white Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.
The city has attracted criticism for its slow progress toward court-ordered reform. Hickey found in June that the city had missed more than 70% of its deadlines in the first year under the order.
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