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Chicago Police, Officials Fail to Meet Reporting Goal

The police department pledged to honor a federal consent decree that required officers to report whenever they pointed a weapon at someone. Only 12 incidents have been reported, despite nearly 17,000 occurrences.

Chicago police Superintendent Larry Snelling
Chicago police Superintendent Larry Snelling at police headquarters on May 3, 2024.
(E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)
Five years after pledging to firm up recordkeeping on incidents where police officers point their weapons at people while performing their duties, the Chicago Police Department and other city officials appear to have fallen short of goals outlined in a federal consent decree guiding reform, the Tribune has found.

That consent decree calls for CPD officers to notify the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications each time they point a weapon at someone. OEMC is then required to notify the officer’s supervisor, and those records ostensibly are available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act.

But in a response to a FOIA filed by the Tribune seeking those records during the five-year window since CPD agreed to the more stringent disclosure requirement, OEMC first provided records that indicated just 12 incidents where officers had made such a notification. Later, the office provided a spreadsheet with nearly 17,000 rows listing “firearm-pointing incident reports,” or FPIR notifications, made since early 2019.

It is unclear though how many raw incidents there were since many data lines repeat, and OEMC did not provide associated police incident report numbers which would indicate the reports had been forwarded.

The consent decree makes it clear how such information is supposed to move up the chain of command after it is gathered by OEMC, saying “notified CPD supervisors will ensure that the investigatory stop or arrest documentation and the OEMC recordation of the pointing of a firearm are promptly reviewed in accordance with CPD policy.”

The consent-decree monitoring team in a recent progress report noted that internal CPD statistics showed thousands of such gun-pointing incidents in recent years. In fact, there were more than 2,000 just in the first six months of last year, the latest period available.

And the lapse comes at a time when the number of those incidents is on the rise. Citing data provided, the monitoring team’s report found 2,562 incidents during the entirety of 2021 and 2,925 in 2022.

While gun-pointing incidents have increased, police shootings have not. Data from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability show agency investigators responded to 34 instances of CPD officers firing their guns in 2022. Last year, COPA responded to 19 shootings involving CPD officers.

Answering questions about the reporting process, a police spokeswoman said all officers receive training.

“Training and supervision are vital to ensuring officers adhere to the firearm pointing incident policy, including promptly notifying OEMC after a firearm pointing incident has concluded,” she said.

Chicago police Superintendent Larry Snelling hasn’t addressed gun-pointing incidents but has said CPD is committed to complying with the consent decree and enhancing transparency. In recent remarks on reform, but he has highlighted other areas where he sees success.

Snelling has noted that traffic stops by CPD officers are down slightly year-over-year, while arrests for felony offenses and illegal gun seizures are up. Homicides and nonfatal shootings are trending down, too, even as the city grapples with a proliferation of automatic weapons.

“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of explaining what real constitutional, proactive police work looks like,” Snelling told the Tribune last year. “The way that we balance this is to, one, be transparent about what we do. Sometimes police work does not look good. But if we can explain the constitutionality of stops, of our interactions with individuals, I think it’ll be a lot more palatable for those who just don’t understand what they’re looking at.”

Little Follow Up

The independent monitoring team said CPD supervisors have, so far, rarely taken corrective action in gun-pointing incidents flagged by the department’s tactical review and evaluation division.

A 2022 year-end report, cited by the monitoring team, indicated that of the nearly 3,000 incidents reviewed, “(The tactical review and evaluation division) made a training recommendation for 1,023 reviews (34 percent). In contrast, supervisors indicated that they took corrective action at the time of the incident in 1 percent of debriefings.”

The vast majority of those training recommendations from the tactical review division concerned officers activating their body-worn cameras — a long-standing problem. Theoretically, an officer who has drawn a weapon during an interaction with a civilian should have activated their camera.

“During a June meeting with the CPD, the IMT expressed concerns about the ability to review use of force incidents when no body-worn camera footage was available 12 percent of the time, according to the tactical review division’s 2022 year-end Report,” the monitoring team recently reported. “The IMT requested that CPD come up with a game plan to address the continuing problems of late activation and no activation.”

CPD’s slow compliance with the consent decree is not limited to shortcomings in reporting and assessing when officers point weapons. Staffing levels, along with data collection and retention, continue to plague the department’s reform efforts, according to the monitoring team.

“Overall, the city’s and the CPD’s compliance efforts continue to lag and, after several reporting periods of minimal progress, bring into question the city’s and the CPD’s commitment to implementing reforms in community policing practices as required by the consent decree,” the team wrote last year.

For more than two years, the Police Department has maintained secondary compliance with the consent decree paragraph that requires notifications of drawing a weapon, according to the monitoring team’s most recent report. Its next report is expected to be released some time this summer, and that will be the first to gauge the CPD’s compliance efforts under Snelling.

Slow to Adopt Reform

The consent decree was ordered into effect in January 2019 after nearly a year of negotiations between the city and the Illinois attorney general’s office — perhaps the most consequential byproduct of the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald by former CPD officer Jason Van Dyke.

The guideline for reporting gun-pointing incidents to OEMC came after a standoff between then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and the provision was agreed upon a day after Emanuel announced he would not seek a third term as mayor.

The independent monitor’s report and the CPD stats cited therein do not make clear where or under what circumstances the firearm-pointing incidents occurred. The monitoring team again pointed to the CPD’s data collection, retention and analysis policies as hindrances to the city’s overall compliance with the consent decree.

Last week during a monthly consent-decree status hearing, Josh Levin, an ACLU attorney who represents a coalition of community groups, said lagging data collection is only a symptom of deeper issues at the department.

“It’s just hard to take CPD seriously (when it’s said) that every officer is a community policing officer when we see what happens in our communities, when CPD is continuing to swarm Black and Latino neighborhoods with heavily armed, plainclothes tactical teams that jump out and terrorize our community members when they’re just simply trying to go about their day,” Levin said. “That’s what happens in communities particularly on the West and the South side of our city, and that is the fundamental break in trust that needs to be repaired. And no amount of data tracking or collection or analysis or surveys is going to solve that until the actual conduct of our police officers toward our community members changes.”

The bulk of the consent decree applies to CPD, but changes to policies in OEMC, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the Chicago Police Board and Office of Inspector General are also required. The monitoring team’s latest report gauged the Police Department’s adherence to the consent decree between Jan. 1, 2023, and June 30, 2023, a period of transition that saw three superintendents lead the department for various lengths of time.

Former Superintendent David Brown announced his resignation from CPD in March after Lori Lightfoot failed to qualify for the mayoral runoff election. After Brown left, Eric Carter, the first deputy superintendent, led the department on an interim basis until he retired in early May.

Once Brandon Johnson was sworn in as mayor, he tapped retired CPD Chief of Patrol Fred Waller to helm the department. The City Council last September confirmed Snelling as permanent superintendent.

Most recently, the monitoring team assessed CPD’s compliance with each of the 552 consent decree paragraphs that apply to the department between January and June 2023. There are three levels of compliance: Preliminary, secondary and full. Preliminary compliance signifies CPD has developed a training curriculum; secondary compliance means training has been implemented; and full compliance means that the policy is fully part of the CPD’s day-to-day operations.

In the first half of 2023, the monitoring team found the department to be in preliminary compliance with 279 of the decree’s 552 monitorable paragraphs. Secondary compliance was found in 160 paragraphs, while the CPD was in full compliance with 33 paragraphs. No compliance was reached in 74 paragraphs, while six more remain under assessment, according to the monitoring team.

©2024 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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