A draft of a new Chicago Police Department use-of-force policy released Tuesday would give officers more latitude in deciding when to fire their weapons, backing off an earlier proposal that the police union had said was too restrictive and could have put officers in danger.
The new draft backs off a suggestion in October that officers not use force unless “all other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted.” That prompted concern from the city’s main police union that it was “too restrictive and would endanger officers who need to protect themselves in various situations.”
The proposal now says that officers are required to use de-escalation tactics only when it does not put their personal safety at risk. The police department is accepting comments on the new policy draft until March 16.
The change in language raised the ire of several activist groups.
Black Lives Matter, calling the CPD “already murderous,” said it would voice its anger at the proposed change, as well as with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump. Sessions and Trump have sent signals they don’t support enacting a court order to codify police reforms in Chicago in the wake of a scathing Justice Department report about CPD done under Sessions’ predecessor, Loretta Lynch.
“Rahm is going to outright ignore & deflect the DOJ report that exposed the institutional racism, structural violence, crimes, terrorism and abuses by CPD,” Black Lives Matter wrote on its Facebook page Tuesday. “He is complicit in the murders happening in our city, by closing schools, mental health clinics, divestment, and driving policies and economic forces that expedite gentrification.”
About 200 people attended a wide-ranging rally and march in Federal Plaza on Tuesday evening. Protesters denounced the police department’s use-of-force policy, President Donald Trump and his executive orders, as well inequities toward minority groups.
Other marches and protests in recent years have numbered in the thousands, but organizers said the attendees’ energy would not waver.
“Repression only works when you accept it,” said Frank Chapman, a field organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “And the people of this country have shown that they’re not going to accept it.”
In an emailed statement, Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said: “This latest draft is not the final policy and we wanted to put out the most recent version for an additional round of public feedback. Supt. Johnson also reaffirmed his commitment to being thorough and transparent in this process and working with community and department stakeholders to get it right.”
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson rejected any suggestion that either he or the department is backing away from implemented needed reforms but suggested that changes were needed to protect police officers. “It is important that we balance public safety with officer safety so we are trying to get it right and we are trying to be transparent,” he said after an unrelated event at a school on the city’s West Side.
Chicago’s police department has been under intense pressure since a video was released in 2015 showing a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, shooting McDonald 16 times. Public outrage led to calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step down, forced out police Supt. Garry McCarthy and led to the election defeat of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who had not moved for months to charge Van Dyke. Van Dyke is now charged with murder and has pleaded not guilty.
The U.S. Justice Department in the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration concluded in a scathing report that the Chicago department had a long history of civil rights violations and excessive force. But it is unclear if President Donald Trump’s administration will follow through on those conclusions and push Chicago for reforms.
Emanuel and the police department are also under scrutiny following a sharp increase in homicides concentrated in poor neighborhoods. The police department tallied 762 murders in 2016, the most killings in the city in nearly two decades and more than New York and Los Angeles combined.
Don Babwin is an Associated Press reporter. Sam Charles is a Sun-Times reporter.