The Chicago Police Department was so disorganized and unprepared during last summer’s unrest and mayhem following the murder of George Floyd, some cops used their own money to rent vehicles to take them to hot spots — and even spent personal cash to buy zip ties for mass arrests.
Meanwhile, peaceful protesters were verbally abused, tackled and pushed down stairs by police.
That’s the word from a 464-page report released Tuesday that blamed a lack of proper police department leadership for the confused and sometimes needlessly violent response during the tense days following the Floyd killing.
Written by Maggie Hickey, the ex-federal prosecutor keeping watch over court-ordered police department reforms, the report should alarm anyone concerned about safety in Chicago. And it’s further proof of the need for massive change at the $1.7 billion city agency.
Police lacked equipment, training
The report comes on the heels of City Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s equally critical probe released last February of the police’s response to the disturbances and protests.
According to the newest report, police and protesters described scenes of utter disorganization and pandemonium during protests.
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Officers said they were often deployed to areas but had no sense of what to do or who was in charge, once they arrived.
Hickey’s investigation found the department even had problems sending the right number of properly equipped officers to the correct locations.
“Many officers were deployed without their equipment, including radios, body-worn cameras or protective gear and also without provisions for their basic needs, such as transportation or access to rest periods, restrooms, food or water,” the report said.
Protesters said police “pulled their hair; struck them with batons, fists, or other nearby objects; hit them after they were ‘kettled’ with nowhere to go or after being handcuffed, and sprayed them with pepper spray without reason,” according to the report.
“We heard from many community members who expressed new fears, frustrations, confusion, pain and anger regarding their experiences with officers during protests,” the report said.
In response to the report’s release, Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke up for the police department.
“We saw peaceful protests hijacked by vigilantes,” she said. “And then we saw looting.”
“We had not seen anything like that — on that scale across so many neighborhoods in Chicago — maybe ever . . . So we prepared for a large-scale protest. What we got was something very, very different.”
But that isn’t quite the defense that Lightfoot perhaps thinks. Read between the lines of her explanation and it’s an admission that police — despite their training and intelligence-gathering capabilities — were caught absolutely flatfooted and ill-prepared for the events that transpired.
And Hickey’s report bears that out.
“Even if the city and the CPD had predicted the level of protests and unrest after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the city and the CPD did not have the policies, reporting practices, training, equipment, community engagement or inter-agency coordination required to respond timely and efficiently,” the report said.
Echoes of the past
The report is sobering when viewed in the light of history.
In 1968, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence issued the Walker Report following the “police riot” at the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago that year.
The findings are eerily similar to those in Hickey’s report released this week.
“There is no question but that many officers acted without restraint and exerted force beyond that necessary under the circumstances,” the Walker Report said. “The leadership at the point of conflict did little to prevent such conduct and the direct control of offices by first line supervisors was virtually non-existent.”
We've known the problem for at least a half-century.
Now, it’s time to fix it.
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