March 07–Pulling back on proposed rule changes that upset some rank-and-file officers, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has proposed a new use-of-force policy that is less restrictive than the one he floated five months ago.
A draft policy released in October drew complaints from both officers and police reform advocates. Some officers said the draft policy was too restrictive for cops making split-second decisions under pressure, while reform advocates said it didn’t spell out clearly enough when police should and should not use force.
In a shift in tone and policy, the new draft proposal released Monday opens by proclaiming the department’s commitment to officer safety while eliminating a provision saying cops must use only the least amount of force needed. The draft also softens the department’s stance on officers using their new de-escalation training to defuse tense encounters, saying cops only have to try those tactics “when it is safe and feasible.”
Union officials welcomed the new draft, while policing experts described the changes as a mix of good and bad. The experts were concerned that department officials are backing off on the need to defuse confrontations in a department plagued by questionable shootings and Taser uses.
“Any kind of backing away from de-escalation is deeply troubling,” said Sheila Bedi, a Northwestern University law associate professor and criminal justice reform advocate.
The union for rank-and-file officers, the Fraternal Order of Police, encouraged members to give feedback on the original draft, said President Dean Angelo Sr. The new draft, he said, indicates their concerns were taken seriously.
“It’s not like we look forward to utilizing force or we look forward to firing our weapon,” he said.
Uncertainty remains as to what rules will eventually be enacted and how the department will enforce any new policies. The police and public have 10 days to comment, and department brass plan to review the feedback, make any changes deemed necessary and enact new rules, according to a news release.
The new draft, meanwhile, only shows changes to the city’s main force policy, and the department has dozens of pages of other policies that govern the use of force. It is unclear, for example, what rules the city will eventually enact on the use of Tasers. Police officials are continuing to review and revise the other use-of-force policies, a departmental announcement said.
Johnson’s tack toward reforming the department’s rules has shifted since October, but so has the political climate.
The first draft policy was among the early changes pushed by Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel as they worked to move past the controversy touched off in late 2015 by video of a white officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.
When the first draft was released, the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the department’s practices, and Emanuel was pressing changes aimed at getting in front of any reforms the federal authorities would eventually suggest or seek to enforce through the courts.
The Justice Department finished its report in January, and it castigated officers for using force too aggressively and frequently against minorities, with limited fear of repercussions.
But President Donald Trump’s election led to the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions has sent signals he is unlikely to seek court enforcement of reforms, and the lack of federal pressure would leave Emanuel largely in control.
Emanuel has vowed to continue pursuing reforms, though experts have voiced skepticism that meaningful change will come without federal pressure.
“The idea that the Chicago Police Department can right this ship on its own has just been proven false over and over again,” Bedi said.
Emanuel has largely hewed to a pro-police message in recent weeks as he seeks to boost department morale and add about 1,000 officers to the force. He is also trying to tamp down surging violence on the South and West sides, which some blame on officers scaling back activity to avoid trouble.
Last year, the city had more than 760 slayings and 4,300 people shot, huge increases over 2015. The violence has continued at similar levels so far this year.
The draft use-of-force policy released Monday is significantly shorter than the earlier proposal, and many modifications were designed to address complaints that the last policy was unrealistic or unfair to police. A new clause near the top sets the tone, offering a rhetorical nod to officer safety, and the draft also contains a clause recognizing the dangers police face and says they aren’t required to take actions “that unreasonably endanger themselves or others.”
The new draft pares down proposed rules on deadly force, eliminating language allowing an officer to shoot when he or she “reasonably believes” it is necessary. University of Chicago Law Professor Craig Futterman had suggested that language be eliminated, and he applauded its deletion.
Futterman, however, said he was troubled by other proposed changes.
The new draft cuts language mandating that officers must use only the least amount of force needed in any situation, though it still holds that force must be objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional. The new draft also strips out a requirement that cops use force only when no alternative appears to exist.
The draft also softens language that called on officers to intervene if they see colleagues using excessive force. That clause inspired ridicule from observers who asked whether it would require an officer to shoot his or her partner to prevent the abuse of a citizen. The new draft specifies that an officer should “verbally intervene on a subject’s behalf.”
Under the original proposal, officers were obligated to render medical aid “commensurate with their training, experience and available equipment.” The new draft softens the requirement, indicating officers may render aid but are not obligated.
Chicago Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner contributed.
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