Supt. Johnson Weakens Use Of Force Limitations For Chicago Police

By Stephen Gossett in News on Mar 7, 2017 10:32PM

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is walking back some of the language that heavily stressed de-escalation in a previous draft revision of the department's use-of-force policy.

Under a draft revision that was released in October—less than three months after the fatal police-involved shooting of unarmed Paul O'Neal—officers would have been required to use only the least amount of force required in a confrontation. But the latest revision, which was released on Monday, now states that officers may only use force that is "objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional" and "only the amount... required under the circumstances."

Also, whereas the previous proposal stressed de-escalation, the new revision states that such techniques should be applied when "safe and feasible" given the "totality" the circumstance.

The latest draft also loosens language about an officer's duty to intervene if another officer is violating use-of-force policy and appears to soften a previously proposed requirement for officers with medical training to provide care in instances where force was used.

Dean Angelo, president of the police union, told Chicagoist that he supports the use-of-force changes and said they reflect the wishes and concerns of rank-and-file police officers who thought the previous language was potentially dangerous in its vagueness. “It's nice to see it trimmed down and [lose] some of the language we believe was not forwarded by police—[language that was] more about community or politics. And officers will have a little bit more idea about what they should or should not be doing."

"I need to make sure our officers go home," Angelo told Chicagoist. "I don’t care what the activist says, or what the ACLU says. We know when to display and when to holster, and we’re the best at determining those. " Angelo said that he believes that previous language reflected external political pressure but declined to say what persons or groups may have been responsible in this specific instance.

The Law Officer blog argued that the new language more closely aligns with Supreme Court rulings.

Civil-rights advocates however argue that de-escalation techniques remain vital for police reform in Chicago. Still, actual enforcement of the policy is far more important than the precise phrasing, according to Alan Mills, Executive Director at Uptown People's Law Center. "The detailed wording is not nearly as important as the way it's enforced... We've seen officers violate use-of-force and nothing happens," Mills told Chicagoist. "How do we approach this in the first place so that we don't get into a situation [where de-escalation is required?" Mills said that a robust civilian oversight agency with the power to regularly impose necessary sanctions is most key.

The walk-backs may be reflective of the new climate at the Department of Justice, which has telegraphed a reluctance to federally impose recommendations for reform made by its previous administration, said Ed Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

"I fear this is a reflection of the pressure being off CPD because they know they aren't going to sign a consent decree [to legally enforce the DOJ's recommendations]," Yohnka told Chicagoist.

He echoed Mills' sentiment that such a remedy would then have to happen closer to home. "Frankly, it's going to have to be done locally—whether that's a lawsuit seeking a consent decree, or the City Council taking action, somebody's really going to have to do something."

This post has been updated.