”We have allowed our police department to get fetal, and it is having a direct consequence,” Mayor Emanuel said last week. ”They have pulled back from the ability to interdict . . . they don’t want to be a news story themselves, they don’t want their career ended early, and it’s having an impact.”
Emanuel made the comment at a summit of mayors, police chiefs, and federal prosecutors called by U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch to discuss the rise in violent crime in metro areas throughout the nation. The meeting in a D.C. ballroom was supposed to be closed to the press, but a Washington Post reporter got in. Emanuel echoed many of the summit’s participants in his comments; the ubiquitous presence of video cameras has made police officers less proactive and has contributed to the spike in crime, they argued.
The mayor elaborated on his fetal remark Monday. He said he’d met recently with officers in the west-side Tenth District: “One officer said, explicitly, ‘When I’m driving by, I have to think about whether I want to be on the news, and what it means to my career.'”
Emanuel said he reported the results of his comprehensive survey of the single Tenth District officer to the summit, “and all the police chiefs and mayors applauded.”
Recent police encounters caught on video certainly could have made some Chicago police officers wary of being “proactive.” A year ago this month, an officer fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on the southwest side. McDonald had a knife and was acting erratically, but a dashboard camera recording showed that only one of the six officers who responded fired all 16 shots that struck McDonald. The officer is on desk duty pending an investigation. The city paid McDonald’s family $5 million to preempt a lawsuit.
Another officer is on desk duty after he fired into a car filled with teens on the far south side, wounding two of them, in December 2013. The car had been curbed for speeding, and the officer fired when it began backing up. A video of the shooting, also taken by a dashboard camera, was leaked to the Chicago Reporter. The city has thus far paid $360,000 to settle a lawsuit on behalf of three of the teens.
As I reported here in June, another officer faces separation from the force after a restaurant’s surveillance camera showed him firing at a car 16 times after a drive-by shooting on North Ashland Avenue in 2011. Problem was, it was the wrong car. The officer wounded one person.
And a video camera in a tanning salon caught a police officer threatening the salon’s Chinese-American manager during a raid in 2013. “I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the fuck you came from!” the officer shouted at her. “Mind your fucking business before I shut this whole fucking place down. And I’ll take this place and then whoever owns it will fucking kill you because they don’t care about you, OK? . . . You’ll be dead and your family will be dead.” The officer now faces a 25-day suspension.
Emanuel also said Monday that he regularly praises the “good officers throughout the city of Chicago doing a good job.” But, he allowed, “When you have a situation, you have to also speak up.”
A “situation.” That’s more baby talk from the mayor. He means notorious episodes such as the ones I’ve mentioned—although I don’t believe he’s spoken up about any of them yet.
Maybe Emanuel is right about the “fetal” response by Chicago police. If they’re not allowed to be “proactive” like the officers in the videos, what other possible option is there but lying down and curling up?