The Chicago Police Department for the first time will seek the public’s input on proposed changes to how officers use force — proposals that already are worrying some cops, such as restrictions on when to draw a weapon.
“We’re going to use less-lethal alternatives as much as we can,” police Supt. Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Friday.
The proposal is the latest fallout from the fatal Laquan McDonald shooting and the national outrage over a video of it, which was made public last year.
Johnson has sent a memo to officers giving them highlights of the proposed changes.
Among the more controversial proposals among the rank-and-file is for officers to keep their guns in their holsters “unless there is a reasonable belief that such action is necessary for the officer’s safety or the safety of others,” several officers told the Chicago Sun-Times.
One sergeant said he was worried the restriction could prompt officers to second-guess themselves in potentially dangerous situations in which they might have drawn their guns in the past.
That proposal is similar to a recommendation by the Independent Police Review Authority, which in its second-quarter report said CPD should prohibit officers from drawing their guns “unless the circumstances make clear that the use of deadly force is likely to be required.”
IPRA said it was seeing some cases in which officers had unholstered their guns in questionable circumstances.
The policy governing officers’ use of force is one of the subjects of a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department, which was launched last year following public outcry over the McDonald video.
At the news conference, Anne Kirkpatrick, chief of the Bureau of Organizational Development, said CPD looked to Los Angeles, New Orleans, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., as models for “best practices.”
“These are cities that have all gone through major reformations,” she said, adding, “It does bring us in line with best practices across the country.”
Kirkpatrick, a former Spokane, Wash., police chief, said the use-of-force proposal would make the “sanctity of life” the highest priority.
Johnson said he hopes to have a new policy in place by the end of the year. Officers and the public will have 45 days to comment. The proposals will be available for review at policy.chicagopolice.org.
Johnson, in his memo to officers, said the proposal puts an emphasis on “de-escalation” of potential conflicts between officers and suspects.
“I understand the concerns you may have regarding use-of-force encounters,” Johnson wrote to his officers. “I have worked the very same streets as you.”
The proposal gives specific guidelines for how officers should use particular weapons, Kirkpatrick said. For example, officers are instructed to re-evaluate the situation after administering three 5-second Taser electrical jolts to a suspect, she said.
Every officer will receive training on the new use-of-force policy, Kirkpatrick said.
The goal, Johnson said, is to make every officer accountable, “from me to the last probationary officer.”
The proposal would make the department’s use-of-force policy more restrictive than the law allows.
“Can you use force? Yes. But should you? Maybe not,” Johnson said.
The last major change to the department’s use-of-force policy was in 2015 when then-police Supt. Garry McCarthy barred officers from firing on a moving vehicle if it constitutes the only threat against officers or others. But that policy also says officers should not “unreasonably endanger” themselves or others to follow it.