Chicago Cops Will Be Required to Document Each Time They Point a Gun at Someone

by | September 6, 2018

By Bill Ruthhart

Chicago police officers would be required to document every instance in which they point a gun at someone under an agreement reached Wednesday between Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, two sources familiar with the deal confirmed.

The new requirement, which will be agreed upon formally in a federal court hearing Thursday morning, marks a win for Madigan who had pushed for the new level of documentation as part of her ongoing negotiations with Emanuel on a federal consent decree that will govern sweeping reforms to the Chicago Police Department in the coming years.

In July, Madigan and Emanuel held a joint news conference to announce the proposed court agreement, which would be enforced by a federal judge and an independent monitor appointed by the court. After nearly a year of negotiations, the two politicians agreed on hundreds of provisions in the court-mandated agreement that call for better training, tighter restrictions on use of force, closer supervision of officers, a speedier and more effective disciplinary system for cops and additional counseling resources for officers, among other policy changes.

For more than a month, however, the mayor and attorney general had been at odds over whether Chicago police officers should have to document every instance in which they point a gun at someone. Madigan called the requirement essential to ensuring that officers properly use the threat of a gun, given the department's history of excessive force and misconduct. Emanuel portrayed the documentation as superfluous, while Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said it could make officers hesitant to draw their weapons in dangerous situations.

After weeks of talks, both sides told U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. last week that they planned to litigate the matter in court.

But on Wednesday -- the day after Emanuel announced he would not seek a third term -- the mayor's team agreed to the provision, according to sources who were not authorized to discuss the agreement publicly. The details of how officers would record such instances were not available late Wednesday but were expected to be presented to Dow in a Thursday court hearing, the sources said.

A court motion Madigan's office filed late Wednesday said there no longer would be a need to argue the gun-pointing issue in court, stating that the two sides "have an agreement on the issue of whether CPD will require officers to record instances in which they point a firearm at a person."

Neither Madigan's nor Emanuel's offices responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

While Madigan and Emanuel made a draft of their consent decree agreement public in July, they still need to submit a new version in court after receiving public comment. That is not expected to happen Thursday, the sources said, because Madigan and Emanuel's offices still are wading through the 1,700 public comments collected on the proposed consent decree and considering tweaks based on that input.

In addition, Dow has said the public would be able to submit written comments on the proposed consent decree and that he planned to hold hearings on Oct. 24 and 25 to hear public comment on the agreement.

A consent decree forcing reforms in the Chicago Police Department is a direct result of the Laquan McDonald police shooting, for which officer Jason Van Dyke's murder trial began this week.

For the better part of a year Emanuel fought in court against releasing video footage of Van Dyke, who is white, shooting McDonald 16 times as the black teen walked down a Southwest Side street holding a folding knife. The mayor's administration also agreed to pay a $5 million settlement to McDonald's family before a lawsuit was even filed.

In November 2015, when a judge ordered Emanuel to release the video, Van Dyke was charged with murder by then-State's Attorney Anita Alvarez on the same day the shooting footage was made public. The video led to sustained street protests, accusations of a City Hall cover-up and calls for Emanuel's resignation.

It also led to a yearlong federal civil rights investigation by then-President Barack Obama's U.S. Justice Department, which found widespread problems within the Police Department, including regular misconduct and the use of excessive force. Obama's Justice Department called for a federal consent decree, to which Emanuel agreed before later trying to negotiate an out-of-court deal with Republican President Donald Trump's administration.

Madigan called those efforts "ludicrous" and sued Emanuel's administration in August 2017 to force a consent decree. The mayor agreed to negotiations with Madigan's office shortly later.

As the gun-pointing debate aired publicly, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois called the provision a common-sense requirement while Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said it would "absolutely" put officers at risk.

When Emanuel and Madigan unveiled the draft consent decree in July, though, the mayor pushed back on the gun-pointing issue, noting that neither the Obama Justice Department's final report nor a report by the mayor's own Police Accountability Task Force raised the matter. Johnson said the CPD would "negotiate in good faith" but raised concerns about putting "officers in a situation that causes them to hesitate," which he said could "mean the loss of life for an officer or loss of life for a citizen in this city."

For her part, Madigan sternly insisted at that July news conference that no provision of the consent decree, including recording when an officer points a gun, would "compromise officer safety." She noted that the Justice Department investigation found the CPD had a history of "unreasonable uses of force" and had not kept a record of it.

"If somebody has a gun pointed at them, you have a situation where somebody has been seized. We need to know when that is happening. We need to know where that is happening," Madigan said. "We need to make sure that we are managing risk, that officers are following and receiving the training they need, that they are held accountable and they are not putting themselves in unsafe situations, and that residents of the city of Chicago are not in unsafe situations."

(c)2018 the Chicago Tribune