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Police Lieutenant Says Chicago Was Unprepared For Unrest: ‘It Was Chaos From The Very Beginning’

From making decisions on how to deploy his officers to being overwhelmed by people looting, the lieutenant gives a supervisor's perspective. "I’ve ... never experienced anything like this in my career."

“The problem isn’t the applicant pool. The problem is the process,” Deborah Witzburg, deputy inspector general for public safety, said of the CPD hiring disparity.
Kelly Bauer/Block Club CHicago
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CHICAGO — After battling civil unrest and looting last week, a Chicago Police lieutenant with almost 30 years on the job described a department “stretched thin,” lacking direction and fearing what could happen next.

In a wide-ranging interview, the lieutenant, who works in a North Side district but was stationed Downtown and on the South Side last week, agreed to talk to Block Club Chicago provided his identity and specific district not be disclosed.

In his almost three decades on the job, he’s never seen officers stretched so thin as they were controlling crowds at protests demanding justice for George Floyd and responding to looting, vandalism and violence across the city.

“I’ve been on almost three decades and have never experienced anything like this in my career. There’s some officers on their 10th day in a row working … 12-hour days,” he said before the weekend.

As unrest worsened, Chicago Police set up shop in the parking lot at Guaranteed Rate Field, where platoons would be assembled and sent to various neighborhoods.

“This is the way it would work. … At 11 a.m., I’d show up at U.S. Cellular Field and check in with the lieutenants to the deputy chiefs. They’d say, ‘Go out and find six sergeants and 60 officers and once you have a platoon together come back and see me,'” the lieutenant said.

The lieutenant would walk “through a sea of people and look for the white shirts — the sergeants.”

“… [I’d] ask if they had a lieutenant already. ‘Yes, No?’ It was like a dating game. Then you’d find a sergeant and ask how many officers he had,” he said.

Once the lieutenant had six sergeants and 60 officers, they’d go back to the deputy chiefs and were deployed to a neighborhood.

“Literally, it was ‘Here’s where you’re going.’ It wasn’t ‘Here’s your function, here’s what you are supposed to do, this is what we want you to do.’ It was just go there and be scarecrows,” the lieutenant said. “That’s literally what they want us to do, go there and be scarecrows. There’s no direction, there’s nothing. It was chaos from the very beginning.”

The lieutenant said he thinks Chicago Police leadership should have acted sooner to cancel days off and put more officers on the streets.

“We can Monday-morning quarterback all we want but they should have canceled days off two days earlier. It should have started on Friday. They knew what was coming. Minneapolis, all these other places were having problems, it was definitely coming here,” the lieutenant said.

Instead police leadership were “trying to get the cat back in the bag” after looters hit commercial corridors hard.

“…The looters [were] emboldened, they are on a roll, they are getting what they want and we are unable to stop them so we’re letting them have it,” the lieutenant said.

“There’s no direction really. They just drop us off at corners and we [would] take it upon ourselves to deter looting.”

On May 31, when crowds of looters hit the city particularly hard, he said officers watched on as looting continued.

“We [weren’t] really trying to catch anybody because the crowds [were] too big and we don’t want our officers getting separated … and getting hurt. So, the main priority is protecting our officers.”

The lieutenant said he kept groups of sergeants and 10 officers working together on the streets.

“So, if I [got] 40 officers and four sergeants I can try to protect four businesses or I can protect the front and back of two businesses and that’s it,” he said. “I’m [wasn’t] going to spread them out to try and cover an entire block with 40 officers and break them down to two and three. It’s too dangerous. … I had officers hit in the head with bricks, bottles. It’s literally chaos and my goal is a supervisor is to keep the officers as safe as possible.”

The lieutenant described a lack of leadership from those above him.

“The commander from that district pulls up. He asks what’s going on so I give him a rundown. I say one officer got hit by a brick, one officer got hit by a bottle, looters got into those three stores over there, they tried to get into this one over here but we’re holding it down, they tried to get into another one over there but we’re holding it down, this is how many officers I got, this is what I got,” the lieutenant said.

After giving the commander the rundown, he asked what the team should be doing. The commander told him to “just get through it,” according to the lieutenant.

“I was like, ‘Anything we should do, any suggestions?’ He shakes his head and looks at me and says ‘Just get through it.’ And that’s just my block. … That was 1 p.m. in the afternoon [Sunday, May 31], broad daylight. I was dreading when it got dark,” the lieutenant said.

Chicago Police declined to directly address the lieutenant’s claims of “chaos” in the department.

“While the Chicago Police Department is not going to respond to unverified comments made by one anonymous member, please see the below background information on the Department’s operations over the past week,” the statement read.

As part of their response to looting, vandalism and violence, police centralized response in Chicago neighborhoods on the South and West sides; canceled days off for officers; instituted 12-hour shifts; requested help from the National Guard and Illinois State Police and deployed hundreds of city trucks to provide strategic traffic support on the South and West sides, police said.

The city also launched a first-of-its-kind Summer Operations Center to ensure public safety resources and city services were reaching the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, according to the statement.