By July 2019, any Chicago police officer who points a gun at someone during an arrest or street stop would have to inform dispatchers by radio of the incident under a deal between Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office that was introduced Thursday.
Cops would not have to fill out a use of force report, as they do when they use a Taser or fire a gun, but supervisors would have to review the gun-pointing incident and it would be recorded in city data. The department also would have to develop training on when to point a weapon.
The issue of tracking gun-pointing incidents was a late sticking point between Madigan and Emanuel in the push to bring federal judicial oversight to the department, a process sparked nearly three years ago by video of an officer shooting teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Lawyers for the two officials have been working toward a consent decree — a court order enforceable by a federal judge — intended to tighten the rules on uses of force and strengthen supervision and discipline, among other changes.
Emanuel and Madigan released a 232-page proposed order in July, but they have continued to negotiate over the gun-pointing matter and were headed toward litigating the issue while pressing forward on the rest of the document. Madigan has said the department needs to track the episodes to ensure police are using their guns appropriately, while police officials have argued it could make cops hesitate in dangerous situations.
Then, on Wednesday, the parties reached agreement. The day before, Emanuel had announced he would not seek a third term.
Attorneys for activist groups involved in the consent decree litigation voiced tentative praise for the agreement while raising questions about the completeness and accessibility of the data that would eventually be kept. Attorneys noted that consent decrees governing police departments in other cities categorize pointing a gun as a serious use of force requiring comparably extensive documentation.
“If it’s serious enough to point a gun at a person, which is an incredibly serious use of force, it’s important enough to document why you did it,” said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor involved in the litigation.
Still, Futterman and Karen Sheley, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, described the deal as a step forward.
Madigan described pointing a gun at a person as a “very serious situation” that needed to be documented and said the agreement ensures the incidents will be recorded without compromising officer safety.
“There’s nothing in the draft consent decree … that prevents an officer from defending themselves,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told the Tribune he never opposed documenting the incidents in some way but wanted to prevent the rules from excessively burdening cops who already have to fill out lots of reports. He noted that officers doing paperwork are not patrolling neighborhoods.
“We have to be careful that we’re not wiping the city clean (of officers), especially these challenged areas,” he said.
The city’s main police union, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, has opposed the consent decree, and President Kevin Graham has said that mandating the documentation of gun-pointing would put officers at risk. The union now has a policy of not commenting to the Tribune, and Graham declined to comment Thursday.
Lawyers for Emanuel and Madigan are working toward a new draft of the proposal to submit to District Judge Robert Dow Jr. following a public comment period on the initial draft that drew some 1,700 comments. Once that is filed, Dow plans to take written comments and hold hearings in October on what the final decree will include.
The court agreement would be one of the most significant and lasting consequences of Officer Jason Van Dyke’s 2014 shooting of McDonald. In late 2015, a judge forced the release of video of the shooting, which showed the white officer emptying his gun’s magazine into the black teenager, who was carrying a knife. The video touched off furious protests rooted in longstanding grievances among African-Americans about their treatment by police.
Cook County prosecutors charged Van Dyke with murder. Jury selection started this week in his trial, and Van Dyke’s lawyers are expected to argue self-defense.
After the video was released, Emanuel resisted calls for an investigation into the police force by the U.S. Department of Justice but then embraced the idea as other powerful officials endorsed it. In January 2017, the Justice Department investigation resulted in a damning report describing Chicago’s police as needlessly violent, badly trained and rarely disciplined.
In the last days of the Obama administration, which often sought to reform troubled local police departments, Emanuel agreed to pursue a consent decree. But President Donald Trump’s election ushered in a Justice Department with little appetite for intervening in local police forces, and Emanuel sought to reach an out-of-court deal with the new administration. Activists and politicians, including Madigan, castigated the proposal, saying a deal without a judge’s supervision was unlikely to lead to lasting reform.
In August 2017, Madigan sued the Emanuel administration to force a consent decree and the mayor agreed to work toward reforms overseen by the courts. Other groups, including Black Lives Matter Chicago and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, also sued, and City Hall and Madigan’s office reached an agreement giving those groups a role in guiding the eventual consent decree.
Lawyers for those groups have criticized the draft agreement and continue to try to influence the final product.
After the agreement was announced Thursday, Futterman questioned the way the data will be organized. Though shootings, Taser shocks and other uses of force by police are recorded with the officer’s name, gun-pointing incidents will be identified by the police beat on which they occur.
Linking data to officers’ names makes it easier to see which cops are using the most force — and whom they’re using it against.
But Johnson voiced confidence that it would not be difficult to determine which officer pointed a gun in a given case. The draft consent decree holds that information on a gun-pointing incident must be linked to the relevant police report on the arrest or street stop, and those reports identify the officer and the other person involved.
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