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Exhausted, abused Chicago Police officers need a break, top cop says

“Working them 12-hour days for extended periods, fatigue sets in,” said CPD Supt. David Brown. “We might have to pull some off the line ... so they can just de-compress from the constant verbal and physical assaults from factions in the crowd.”

A man is taken into custody on June 1, 2020 as Chicago police officers clash with hundreds of protesters outside a store that had been looted near East 71st Street and South Chappel Avenue.
A man is taken into custody Monday as Chicago police officers clash with hundreds of protesters outside a store that had been looted near East 71st Street and South Chappel Avenue.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Three days after massive rioting and looting prompted the city to cancel days off, Chicago police officers are exhausted, burned out and in desperate need of relief, CPD Supt. David Brown said Wednesday.

“It’s not lost on me that our folks are human. Working them 12-hour days for extended periods, fatigue sets in. You get this risk factor that they’ve been on the front line too long,” Brown said during a conference call with City Hall reporters.

“So we’re working on relief factor for these officers. We are cognizant that we might have to pull some off the line just to get them that break so they can just de-compress from the constant verbal and physical assaults from factions in the crowd. … Their wellness from a mental health perspective has to be taken into consideration.”

Brown said he plans to provide that sorely-needed relief while maintaining the 375 members of the Illinois National Guard summoned to Chicago to control the downtown perimeter.

The superintendent characterized Tuesday night as “one of our quietest nights” this week. There were 274 arrests, including six for looting. There were no “new” looting incidents, he said, only people returning to already-ransacked places.

There were 46 arrests for disorderly conduct, including “factions from outside Chicago ... intent on causing trouble” by throwing rocks at officers, insulting them and causing other property damage, Brown said.

But coming off one of the most deadly weekends in recent memory — 23 fatal shootings — Brown said Chicago still has “too much violence outside of the protests.” On Tuesday night alone, there were 23 shootings and 69 guns recovered.

“We’re still only one day where we had some calming of the activities of looting and disorderly conduct. ... We are cautiously optimistic, but prepared for this to escalate in case it does, particularly as we approach the weekend,” Brown said.

“So we are keeping all of our resources in place. We are making our adjustments. But we have continued to put more resources toward the neighborhoods to make sure people feel safe, given the looting. We are not letting our guards down,” he added.

“We are looking at all of our intelligence. We are monitoring social media. We are obviously active in the protest crowds. We have several protests scheduled. They’ve been peaceful for the last 24 hours. Our hopes are they stay the same. We are hoping for the best and prepared for things to change, if they do. We are going to be very proactive in our efforts to tamp down the violence and any property damage.”

After spending countless hours at the city’s operations center, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has been impressed by how incident commanders are directing what’s happening on the ground. Their demeanor has been calm, even in the face of massive crowds. That sets a tone of restraint for rank-and-file officers “in the thick of it,” the mayor said.

“They’re not hysterical. They’re not, `Go get `em. Take your clubs out.’ They’re preaching calm and patience. That really sets, I think, the right tone for what I’ve seen actually transpire on the ground across the city,” the mayor said.

Having said that, Lightfoot acknowledged she’s seen video of an incident at the Brickyard Mall allegedly involving excessive force by Chicago police. The video has been forwarded to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability for immediate investigation.

Protesters march on Lake Park Avenue near 52nd Street on Sunday, the third day of protests in Chicago over the death of George Floyd in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
Protesters march on Lake Park Avenue near 52nd Street on Sunday, the third day of protests in Chicago over the death of George Floyd in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The mayor and Brown reiterated what they’ve said all week: There is “zero tolerance” for excessive force — now more than ever, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of now-former Minneapolis Police officers. Anyone claiming mistreatment should file a complaint, they said.

Lightfoot reaffirmed her commitment to civilian police review and said it was missing from the reforms she announced in a televised address Tuesday night only because the outstanding issues of who has the final say on police policy are complicated.

Also Wednesday, Lightfoot said she was on a conference call this week with Walmart and other major retailers whose stores were looted and burned. She pleaded with them not to “abandon our neighborhoods.”

Walmart officials were assessing damage to their store at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue, she said; they also planned to donate leftover produce.

“My hope is that they will come back,” Lightfoot said. As for other businesses, “I got a resounding, `Mayor, this is our city. This is our home’ from a lot of other retailers. And I would hope that Walmart will follow suit.”

Walmart declined through a spokeswoman to address whether all locations would be reopened. Anne Hatfield, director of global communications, issued a statement that said, “Recognizing the important role we play in so many impacted communities in providing for everyday needs, we hope to reopen as soon as possible. We are assessing each location to understand our ability to do that.”

Contributing: David Roeder

Chicago police on Monday guard the Walmart Supercenter at 8331 S.Stewart Ave., which was damaged by the days of unrest in late May.
Chicago police on Monday guard the Walmart Supercenter at 8331 S.Stewart Ave., which was looted and burned over the weekend.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times