At Issue: CPD’s New Use of Force Guidelines Under Public Consideration

To a large extent, the proposed use of force guidelines unveiled by the Chicago Police Department last month reflect the newest thinking in the law enforcement field, experts have said.

The department opened an online policy portal where residents can view the draft policy and enter comments. A 45-day comment period ends November 21. It’s the first time CPD has sought public comment on a draft policy.

The draft policy can also be viewed and commented on at the Use of Force Tracker, a public tool produced by City Bureau and the Invisible Institute to provide context and collect public input around the draft guidelines.

(City Bureau)

Some key language hews closely to a new use of force policy instituted by Baltimore police in June, shortly before a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Baltimore Police Department was completed.

“The policies appear to have improved in some respects,” the Justice Department noted in its August report on Baltimore. “However, the recent updates may require additional amendments to correct the patterns of unconstitutional force our investigation uncovered.”

The Justice Department found that the Baltimore department used aggressive tactics that escalated encounters, stifled public cooperation, and resulted in use of force; used unreasonable force (often involving tasers) against individuals with mental health disabilities; and used unreasonable force against juveniles and against people who are not a threat, including individuals who are fleeing police.

In a summary of its draft policy, CPD cites a March 2016 report from the Police Executive Review Forum on “Guiding Principles on Use of Force.” Based on a series of conferences and workshops involving police chiefs from across the county, the report argues that “the policing profession must take the initiative and address the challenges facing it today.”

The PERF report finds significant potential for reducing use of force in the estimated one-third of fatal police shootings that involve individuals who are not armed with guns. This includes individuals showing symptoms of mental illness as well as people armed with knives or baseball bats, “armed” only with a vehicle, and (in 9 percent of cases nationally) unarmed.

(William Camargo)

Those figures may be higher in Chicago. PERF reports that nationally 59 percent of people shot and killed by police were either shooting or pointing a gun at the time they were shot. A Chicago Tribune analysis of its database of police shootings from 2010 to 2016 found that 60 percent of police shooting victims were pointing a gun “or made some move leading [police] to think they were armed, such as reaching toward their waistband.” In a number of such cases, according to the Tribune, no weapon was recovered.

CPD’s draft guidelines emphasize many principles recommended by PERF, including the sanctity of life, proportionality, and de-escalation. It limits use of deadly force to situations where an assailant poses a serious threat and no reasonable alternative is available. It requires officers to use the least amount of force possible based on the totality of circumstances.

The proposed guidelines call for attention to tactical positioning and use of time as a tactic, approaches experts believe can reduce the need for use of force.

According to a CPD summary, the draft policies eliminate the old “use of force model.” The draft order on Response Options includes language reflecting changes first introduced in January calling for using force that is reasonable, necessary and proportionate; prioritizing preservation of life; and using force mitigation and de-escalation tactics at the earliest opportunity.

But the draft order also uses the same description of a use-of-force continuum as the existing order on Force Options — the framework that’s reflected in the use of force model — in which a particular level of resistance merits a particular level of force. According to the PERF report, “mechanical, escalating continuums of force” are not as effective as strategies based on “evaluat[ing] the totality of the situation.” PERF recommends a “critical decision-making model” that gathers information, assesses threats, and considers a range of options.

The PERF report also emphasizes the importance of training (as does a separate PERF report on “Reengineering Training”), noting that police academy often begins with extensive weapons training, with other topics covered much less extensively, generally with lectures. Academy and in-service firearms training should be scenario-based and should “go beyond the traditional ‘shoot/don’t shoot’ decision-making” to integrate less lethal options and communication and de-escalation skills, PERF argues.

“Everything depends on training,” Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, told View from the Ground. “At this point this is nothing more than a piece of paper. Very intensive training — in-service and in the academy — is the crucial element in translating these policies into what officers actually do. They need to retrain everybody, including supervisors.”

Samuel Walker (University of Nebraska Omaha)

Extensive reporting procedures are spelled out in a proposed order on firearm discharges, which also establishes a mandatory 30-day period of desk duty after an officer discharges a firearm. The order requires investigations to conform to the Department Members’ Bill of Rights, established three years ago, which includes provisions that the mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability has criticized as “perpetuat[ing] the code of silence.” These include a 24-hour waiting period before officers involved in shootings have to face outside investigators and limits on the use of anonymous complaints and investigation of complaints older than five years.