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Report details chaos of police response to protests, looting last summer

The city hasn’t dedicated sufficient resources toward responding to protests and potential unrest since it hosted the NATO summit in 2012, the report said.

Peaceful demonstrators chant and hold up signs in front of police roadblock outside the CPD headquarters at 35th and Michigan Avenue, on Sunday, May 31, 2020, to protest George Floyd’s death.
The city and the Chicago Police Department were ill-prepared for the protests and rioting after the murder of George Floyd, according to a new report from monitor Maggie Hickey.
Sun-Times file

The Chicago Police Department was unprepared to handle the mass protests, unrest, violence and looting that followed the murder of George Floyd last summer, according to a new report released Tuesday morning.

The report was put together by Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor who’s in charge of overseeing court-ordered reforms to the Chicago Police Department.

The report details how officers rushed to stores and spent their own money to buy zip ties used in mass arrest situations, while other officers rushed to rent vehicles that would allow for proper transportation of cops to areas of potential unrest.

The 464-page report, compiled after numerous interviews with both police and protesters, isn’t even the first report to rip the city’s response to the protests.

In February, Joe Ferguson, the city’s inspector general released a highly critical report on the city’s response. CPD also produced its own report detailing failures and how to improve.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded to Hickey’s report by arguing Chicago was not alone. There was “no city in the country, us included, that anticipated the scale of protests” after Floyd’s death.

“We saw peaceful protests hijacked by vigilantes. And then we saw looting,” the mayor said.

“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.”

According to the latest report, when many officers deployed, it wasn’t clear who was in charge or what exactly they should be doing.

One communication failure left a police vehicle on a bridge being raised to stem the flow of looters and protesters downtown.

“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 states.

The city, Hickey noted, hadn’t dedicated sufficient resources toward responding to protests and potential unrest since hosting the NATO summit in 2012.

The report states: “Some CPD leadership told us that they were sent to a location downtown, but there was no one there to provide further instruction when they arrived. In response, some supervisors and officers who responded downtown pushed crowds in various directions, and unsuccessfully chased people who were looting from store to store. Others said that, without direction, they directed officers with them to not engage with crowds to avoid risking injuries to people in the crowd and themselves. As a result, they had their teams pull away from conflicts.”

“Many city and CPD personnel told us that, once they received word of what was occurring downtown, they rushed to work and many officers self-deployed.”

The city’s standard approach of planning and preparing for large protests was inadequate for responding to quickly evolving mass protests often fueled by social media. As a result, the city was left to “improvise,” the report states.

Problems deploying the right number of properly equipped officers to the correct locations followed.

“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 states.

The report said another consequence of being unprepared was the use of excessive force by officers.

“Some officers engaged in various levels of misconduct and excessive force, many instances of which are still under investigation,” it stated.

“We heard from community members who participated in protests — some for the first time — who said that officers were verbally abusive toward them; pushed and shoved them; tackled them to the ground; pushed them down stairs; 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.”

The mayor pointed to the absence of trouble during several potential “flash points”: the aftermath of the November election, the grand jury verdict in the death of Brionna Taylor and the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd.

“There was a lot of learning that we gleaned from last summer’s experiences that I think we’ve put to good use in being better prepared, better able to respond, keeping our residents safe and also being very prepared if we see any recurrence of the vigilantism or the looting,” Lightfoot said.

The report hammers home the need for the city to implement reforms laid out in the consent decree, according to Nusrat Choudhury, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois.

“This includes desperately needed changes to ensure police accountability, respect for community members, unbiased policing, and a dramatic reduction in police use of force against people,” he said.

The city has been criticized for its slow pace of cementing consent decree reforms.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the former Chicago police officer now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said Tuesday that the monitor’s report covers the same ground already plowed by Ferguson.

Taliaferro said CPD already has “learned from its mistakes” and claimed “a lot of right things were done as well” during the two devastating rounds of looting.

“We certainly could have had much more hysteria, much more looting and much more harm than we did. So there had to be some things that were done right as well” Taliaferro said.

“I’m really tired of it. … Look at how people are perceiving Chicago. That’s because you guys keep throwing this stuff in their throats. … Why isn’t anybody highlighting what we’re doing good as a city? I’m waiting for that. I’ve been waiting for that for years. To keep printing the same thing over and over and over again about the negative in this city — it just dogs people out. It just dogs this city and makes this city look like crap — and it’s not.”

Ferguson’s scathing 124-page report described mistakes at CPD’s highest levels that “failed the public” as well as rank-and-file police officers “left to high-stakes improvisation without adequate supervision or guidance.”

His report also concluded the mayor’s decision to raise the Chicago River bridges and stop CTA trains from entering downtown to keep out looters may have backfired by trapping protesters there.

Ferguson further accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of rejecting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s early offer to call out the National Guard to assist overwhelmed and exhausted Chicago police officers. Lightfoot denied the charge as “completely untrue.”

The mayor has said she waited until very late on Saturday, May 30, after widespread looting in the downtown area to request the Guard. “I’m a kid who grew up in Ohio down the road from Kent State. My earliest memories are very seared by the then-Ohio governor calling in the National Guard to Kent State, and the result was four students dead.”

Taliaferro said Tuesday that CPD has learned from its mistakes.

“We have a very smart superintendent. I’m quite sure that he didn’t look at the inspector general’s report and throw it in the trash. He and his command staff are smart enough to look at what needed to be changed and where they fell short,” the chairman said.

Northwestern law professor Sheila Bedi, part of a group that urged Hickey to create the report, said Tuesday its findings bolster her belief that CPD must change — and quickly.

“We’re asking the department to do far too much, and the report lays bare the department doesn’t have the training, supervision and planning to respond to crises, whether they arise from First Amendment expression or people living in mental health crises,” Bedi said.

“And the report’s findings can be extrapolated out to the department at large. It’s inherently violent in a deeply racialized way and therefore ill-equipped to respond to the needs of Chicago’s communities,” she said.

The report also acknowledged the police department faced unprecedented challenges in dealing with the protests, unrest and the pandemic at the same time.

“This report is not a blanket disapproval or approval of the city’s and the CPD’s responses to recent protests and unrest,” the report released Tuesday states.

“We believe that the city and the CPD can and must make immediate, deliberate, and transparent efforts — in compliance with the consent decree — to better protect and serve and to be accountable to Chicago’s communities.”