Chicago Police Finalize New Rules on When to Shoot and Use Force
By Dan Hinkel
Chicago police officials on Wednesday announced policy changes intended to cut back on questionable shootings and other uses of force that have haunted the department for years.
The changes, made after months of back-and-forth revisions, will tighten department rules that experts and advocates have criticized as too permissive of unnecessary uses of force.
The policy changes -- expected to take effect this fall -- represent a milestone for a department upended nearly 18 months ago by the release of video of a white officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.
The revised rules, however, do not go as far in some respects as the rules proposed by police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in October, when the department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel faced more intense federal scrutiny amid the immediate fallout over the video.
The final version of the department's main use-of-force policy substantially resembles the scaled-back proposal Johnson made in March after rank-and-file police complained that his first proposal was too extreme.
In one key change, the policy holds that an officer can't shoot a fleeing person unless that person presents an imminent threat to police or others. The rule that has been in place says an officer can shoot any person fleeing after committing or trying to commit a felony using force.
The new policy also calls on officers to use their new de-escalation training to try to defuse incidents. The adopted language is less strict than Johnson's first proposal, though. Officers have to try de-escalation only "when it is safe and feasible to do so."
Johnson announced the new rules at an event at police headquarters designed to show unity among his command staff, rank-and-file officers and residents. Johnson spoke to a crowd of officers as he was flanked by Ald. Ariel Reboyras, 30th, an Emanuel ally who lauded the new rules in both English and Spanish.
Johnson was also joined by activist William Calloway, who helped force the release of the McDonald video. Onstage during questioning by the media, Calloway greeted Johnson with a handshake and "What's up, Supe?" He credited the protests over the McDonald shooting with creating change in the department.
"This is a big win for us, that our voices were heard," Calloway said.
But he added the caution that it won't be clear how effective the rules are until they are in place.
The policies are yet another point of disagreement between top department officials and the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents rank-and-file officers and whose contract with the city expires this year.
Kevin Graham, elected FOP president last month, released a statement Wednesday decrying the "anti-law enforcement climate" in Chicago. Graham has opposed the idea that the department needs outside oversight or tougher discipline.
"Three Chicago police officers have been shot in the last two weeks. The reality is that many offenders do not want to go to jail and they become resistant or combative with officers. These violators determine the level of response by officers," Graham said in a written statement.
"For these reasons, we do not believe that extensive changes should made to the current use of force policy. Nevertheless, we are always willing to discuss new measures with the superintendent that insure the safety of our officers and those of the public," the statement read.
Johnson, meanwhile, said the department can't compromise on either officer safety or residents' rights.
"I'm not naive. I know that there will be some who will think that these policies are too restrictive for officers to do their jobs, and there will be some who think it isn't restrictive enough," he said.
"However, I do believe that the set of policies we are releasing today is in the best interest of everyone," he said.
In a break from tradition for a department that has done little to train officers on policy changes, all of the approximately 12,000 officers will receive both computerized and in-person training on the new force rules, Johnson announced.
The rules are expected to take effect this fall after officers have each received four hours of in-person training. That will be followed by eight more hours of training next year.
Department rules can be more than symbolic -- they set boundaries that officers can face punishment for breaking.
Officer discipline has been rare and often light in Chicago, and oversight officials aiming to strengthen accountability have sought changes to use-of-force policies widely criticized as too permissive. More specific rules could give disciplinary authorities stricter standards to apply to officers who use force in questionable circumstances.
Sharon Fairley, who runs the city's main police oversight agency and will head the city's revamped Civilian Office of Police Accountability when it begins operations this year, lauded the new rules.
"We believe these new policies incorporate new concepts that are essential to fair and effective policing," she said in a statement.
The department's force policies drew intense focus after Emanuel was forced in November 2015 to release video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald as the teen walked away from police with a knife in his hand.
Furious protests followed, and the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the department. Emanuel, meanwhile, made changes aimed at getting ahead of federal authorities. One of his early moves was to propose new rules on the use of force.
Johnson, appointed to lead the department as the crisis deepened, first proposed new force rules in October that were markedly more restrictive than the rules in place. Some officers said the draft policy was too exacting for cops making split-second decisions under pressure.
Months after Johnson put that proposal out for public comment, the Justice Department finalized a report that concluded officers used force too aggressively, often against minorities and with limited fear of repercussions.
But President Donald Trump's election and his appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general upended the political discussion about police reform. Sessions has signaled that he is unlikely to seek court enforcement of reforms, and the lack of federal pressure would leave Emanuel largely in control.
Emanuel, for his part, is trying to boost officer morale and tamp down surging violence on the South and West sides, which some blame on officers scaling back activity to avoid trouble.
Emanuel and Johnson have both vowed to continue pursuing reforms, but experts have voiced skepticism that meaningful change will come without federal pressure.
In March, Johnson scaled back and tweaked his proposal from October on the department's main use-of-force guidelines.
The final version of the main force policy resembles the one Johnson proposed in March.
Like past revisions of the rules proposed by Johnson, the final policy begins with a symbolic statement of the department's commitment to protecting human life.
Beyond rhetoric, certain changes are aimed at addressing long-standing issues in the department, including the new rule that an officer can only shoot a fleeing person who poses an imminent threat to an officer or other person. The rules that have been in place allow an officer to shoot a fleeing person who has committed a felony using force.
A database compiled by the Tribune last year showed that foot chases played a role in more than a third of the 235 police shootings from 2010 through 2015 that ended with someone wounded or killed.
The new policy expands on the comparatively bare-bones one that has been in place, which focuses largely on whether a use of force is reasonable. The department's new overarching rule on using force emphasizes that it must be objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat.
The new rules also require officers to intervene verbally or by other means when another officer uses excessive force. Johnson's original proposal suggested officers could physically intervene when colleagues use excessive force, inspiring ridicule from observers who suggested it could call for a cop to shoot his partner. The final version calls on an officer to intervene, but it does not specify that the intervention could be physical.
The final rules also closely resemble Johnson's scaled-back proposal on officers giving medical attention. The earliest proposal mandated that officers give medical care to the wounded, but the final rules say officers may do so if they are properly trained.
Experts and reform advocates had little time Wednesday to digest the extensive new rules, but attorney Jon Loevy, who has often sued the department over uses of force, said he was pleased with the more specific rules.
"I'm not afraid to criticize the Chicago Police Department, but this is something that I think they deserve credit for," he said.
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