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Community group releases first report on Chicago police use-of-force policies

The city’s Use of Force Community Working Group, which was formed about two years ago, released its first public report Monday on the Chicago Police Department’s policies, highlighting changes and shortcomings.

The group first convened in the summer of 2020 after a consent decree required by the Police Department to engage community members when rewriting its use-of-force policies, according to the 22-page report. Community members who are part of the group include those from the Southside Branch of the NAACP, Community Renewal Society, Black Lives Matter Chicago, the Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations and the ACLU of Illinois.

The group had proposed 155 changes to the department’s policies, but CPD rejected “every substantive recommendation” in October 2020.

The Police Department later engaged with the group as required by the consent decree and after the group published an open letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the Chicago Sun-Times “that criticized the process as a charade,” according to the report.

The group had many meetings with CPD in 2021 and 2022, which “resulted in meaningful change,” and the department adopted many of the group’s recommendations, the report said. The department is training its officers on the policies.

“CPD’s force policies now prioritize the sanctity of all human life; require officers to de-escalate situations to avoid the need for any force; prohibit the use of any force unless necessary; and restrict the amount of force to least amount necessary under the circumstances,” according to the report.

The Police Department renamed its force policies to start with de-escalation, rather than the use of force. The policy is now titled “De-Escalation, Response to Resistance, and Use of Force.”

The key policy changes include that sanctity of all life is the overarching principle of all of CPD’s policies. The group was also successful at making CPD change its language to “affirm the humanity of all community members.” Officers were previously instructed to see community members as “subjects,” “suspects” and “offenders,” but now CPD agreed to change any mention of “subjects” to “persons.”

The group did recommend a number of reforms that the department has not implemented.

One of those recommendations included treating gun-pointing as a use of deadly force. The group wanted officers to be prohibited from pointing a gun at someone unless the person presented an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.

Another would have required CPD to release video, audio and police reports within 48 hours after an officer fires their gun or Taser in the direction of another person or when an officer uses force that results in death or serious injury, the report said.

The group was able to change CPD’s policies around officers’ role at protests, the report said.

“It is now the responsibility of every Chicago police officer as a matter of policy to support and protect the rights of people to engage in protest or other free speech and expression — and officers can be held accountable if they violate this duty,” the document states.

In 2020, Chicago police officers used pepper spray during protests, the report said. Officers are now prohibited from using it against people in nonviolent protests unless authorized to do so by the police superintendent.

Police are also now prohibited from unleashing dogs against people in crowds, civil disturbances and protests, the report said.

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Members of the group also plan to offer community “teach-ins” so people are aware of CPD’s new rules and that the department is held accountable to the policies, the report said.

“As Chicagoans understand all too well, what CPD policies say on paper can be very different from what happens on the ground. Each of us needs the knowledge and tools to make these policies more than paper tigers,” the report said.

On the same day the report was released, CPD announced it filled its reform progress update report for the sixth independent monitoring report period, Jan. 1 to June 30.

The policies implemented during this period included the permanent foot pursuit policy, which included enhanced supervisory responsibilities and new post-foot pursuit documentation, according to the department.

“We just expect and hope for improvement, obviously, from the previous reporting period, which was at 72% compliance. We expect improvement from 72. We hope to be near 80 if not at 80,” Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “It’s a very challenging consent decree — more paragraphs than any consent decree in the country right now. But we’re up for the challenge.”

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