On Monday, the Chicago Police Department unveiled new proposed revisions to its use-of-force policy. Initial changes to the policy were drafted and submitted for public comment in October, just as the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating CPD for alleged “patterns or practices” of civil rights violations.
The October draft was extensive, proposed stricter limits on the circumstances in which officers were allowed to use their guns, and required that officers use the “least amount of force reasonably necessary,” marking a small step toward reform. The police union subsequently criticized the department, accusing it of crafting guidelines in response to political pressures and not in view of officer safety.
The DOJ released its 164-page report in January, finding that CPD engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional use of force as well as myriad other problems. The report included a series of reform recommendations and praise for the policy and training changes CPD had already undertaken. Although the DOJ recommended many changes to CPD policies and procedures ranging from how it collects data to how it promotes its officers, the federal agency’s recommendations around CPD’s use of force policies were particularly important given the DOJ’s findings in this realm.
So how do the revised use-of-force guidelines square with the DOJ’s advice? Let’s compare a few key items:
What the DOJ advised: The DOJ praised CPD for beginning to train its officers in the use of de-escalation techniques “so that force may be avoided,” and urged the department to continue in this vein.
What CPD’s revised guidelines say: The department states that officers “will use de-escalation techniques,” not as a baseline in all incidents (as the October policy draft directed), but “when it is safe and feasible to do so based on the totality of the circumstances.” This subtle change in language leaves more leeway for individual officers’ judgments with regard to any given situation, and doesn’t establish de-escalation as the primary approach officers should take in encounters with the public.
(2) Shooting at cars and “vehicle maneuvers”
What the DOJ advised: Beyond officers shooting at moving vehicles, one of investigators’ key concerns had been the way officers use their vehicles in tactical situations—not just driving recklessly but using “dangerous vehicle maneuvers” to apprehend people or stop them from fleeing. The DOJ recommended that CPD “revise and reinforce policies against shooting at or from a moving vehicle, and provide additional training on avoiding” such maneuvers.
What CPD’s revised guidelines say: CPD makes no mention of how officers can and can’t use their cars in the line of duty. Instead, it reiterates that they aren’t allowed to fire at moving vehicles or put themselves in their path—a policy that has been regularly violated by officers, as, for example, during the fatal shooting of Paul O’Neal last summer.
(3) Retaliatory force
What the DOJ advised: Upon finding many instances in which CPD officers apparently used retaliatory force against citizens, including for exercising their First Amendment rights, the DOJ recommended an explicit prohibition of such behavior.
What CPD’s revised guidelines say: This appears to be one area in which the department has taken a cue from the feds. The new proposal explicitly prohibits using force “as punishment or retaliation” or “in response to a person’s lawful exercise of First Amendment rights.”
(4) Medical aid
What the DOJ advised: The DOJ recommended that CPD equip all officers with “appropriate first-aid supplies, train them in their use, and require officers to render aid to injured persons consistent with the officer’s training.”
What CPD’s revised guidelines say: Although the department committed to doing just that in its October draft, the new draft significantly softens the expectation around cops rendering medical aid . Cops are still required to call EMS from the Chicago Fire Department, but personally providing first aid is optional.
CPD’s rollback on the proposed revisions from October has drawn ire from police reform advocates.
CPD could be easing up knowing that a consent decree from attorney general Jeff Sessions’s DOJ is unlikely. Or it could be conceding to the demands of rank-and-file cops preparing to negotiate a new contract with the city this spring. When the DOJ report findings were announced in January, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that “there are no U-turns” on the “road to reform.” Perhaps this is just a sharp right.
The draft of the policy is open for public comment until March 16, after which the department will review proposed changes, incorporate any it deems necessary, and finalize the policy.