CPD overhauls controversial system for recording ‘positive’ interactions with public

Under the draft policy, officers would have to tell a dispatcher where an interaction occurred and how many people were involved, as well as file a report detailing the interaction.

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Chicago Police Supt. David Brown

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Five months after Chicago Police Supt. David Brown set a controversial goal of conducting 1.5 million “positive community interactions” this year, the department released a draft policy Wednesday aimed at overhauling the troubled system for tracking the encounters.

The move comes after sharp criticism from the Illinois attorney general’s office and the monitoring team tracking the department’s compliance with sweeping court ordered reforms — both of which called on Brown to halt the initiative.

In setting the goal four days after Chicago closed the book on its deadliest year in a quarter-century, Brown pitched the interactions as tools for “engaging the community [and] building trust.” Mayor Lori Lightfoot even lauded the effort, claiming community trust is the “secret sauce” to cracking cases.

Yet critics have warned the current system could have the opposite effect.

In a Feb. 7 memo obtained by the Sun-Times, the attorney general’s office said Brown’s plan to triple the number of “positive community interactions,” or PCIs, amounted to a “quota system” that’s “rife with significant downsides.” Then on April 11, the monitoring team overseeing compliance with a federal consent decree issued a report warning that Brown’s goal “seriously risks increasing negative interactions, damaging public trust, and undermining its ability to ensure it is providing constitutional and effective policing.”

The progress report also raised alarms about the system for conducting and logging the interactions, which doesn’t currently incorporate any feedback from community members and effectively “incentivizes officers to self-servingly interpret and report all interactions as PCIs.” Perhaps most alarming, it warned the existing directive governing PCIs doesn’t specify whether they can be related to other law enforcement actions, like a stop, search or an arrest.

The new draft policy aims to address some of the key concerns and expands the definition of a PCI as “a brief, spontaneous, face-to-face interaction” that’s initiated by an officer outside a department-issued vehicle. For example, an officer could help change a tire, offer directions or help someone carry groceries.

Officers are currently only required to call a PCI into a dispatcher and they often leave out critical information, making it virtually impossible to verify that an account is accurate.

A Sun-Times analysis previously found that many records were missing detailed location information and an officer’s name or star number. And not a single record contained information about the subject of an interaction or what made it positive.

Under the draft policy, officers would have to tell a dispatcher where an interaction occurred and how many people were involved, as well as provide a “brief description” of what happened. On top of that, they’d need to file a report detailing the interaction, either virtually or on paper.

In a statement, the police department noted the data will be periodically reviewed “to identify trends to better address community needs.” Officials didn’t respond to questions about whether Brown’s 1.5 million goal was still in place.

A PCI couldn’t be used as a “pretextual stop” under the draft policy and couldn’t be associated with “any law enforcement-related action,” including traffic or investigatory stops. But if an “attempted PCI” turned into a “law enforcement action,” an officer would need to inform a dispatcher of the change.

The draft policy notes that PCIs couldn’t be used as a tool for evaluating job performance, and officers couldn’t be disciplined for failing to produce them. Cops would be expected to “proactively survey for opportunities to interact with members of the community” when they aren’t busy, but they couldn’t rack up PCIs simply by greeting people or tally them at department-sponsored events.

Maggie Hickey, the court-appointed monitor, declined to comment through a spokeswoman. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, which is also overseeing the department’s compliance with the consent decree, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois, slammed the changes. An ACLU official had previously warned that PCIs could be used as a pretext for police activity, saying the program “encourages more unconstitutional stops.”

“There is nothing in this draft that allays the concerns that we have expressed previously about the positive community interaction scheme advanced by the Superintendent,” he said in a statement. “We remain seriously concerned.”

Meanwhile, the police statement credited the “first of its kind” draft policy for highlighting “the importance of building trust across the city and encourages officers to be proactive in developing positive relationships with community members with the goal of strengthening public safety.”

A public comment period “used to inform the final PCI policy” will remain open until June 23. To review the draft policy and comment, click here.

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