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Chicago Police Failed On Every Level When Responding To Protests, Unrest Over George Floyd Slaying, Watchdog Finds

The investigation found the Police Department's response was "marked, almost without exception, by confusion and lack of coordination."

A Chicago Police officer uses a baton to hit protesters as officers guard Trump Tower in River North on May 30, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A watchdog found the Police Department was “under-prepared and ill-equipped” to handle unrest this summer — and, as a result, its leadership failed the city and its officers in nearly every way.

The Office of the Inspector General released a report Thursday morning detailing its investigation into how the Police Department handled protests and unrest in Chicago after police officers killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. The investigation found Chicago’s response was “marked, almost without exception, by confusion and lack of coordination,” according to a news release from the office.

The report analyzed police activity in response to unrest May 29-June 7, when people were protesting police violence and looters were destroying neighborhood businesses.

During those days of strife, police used controversial tactics — like boxing in and pepper spraying protesters — and were caught on video harassing and attacking activists. Some officers hid their identities, violating city rules. The city’s own Police Board president was beaten with batons at a protest, and hundreds of people were arrested for protesting.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot put the city under a curfew, shut down the CTA and raised bridges to try to keep people from Downtown.

The Police Department and Lightfoot received harsh criticism for their handling of the unrest.

But the report from the Inspector General’s Office digs deep into what led to the chaos and botched response, creating a detailed timeline of what happened, who made key decisions and how officers and leaders took steps to avoid being blamed for misconduct.

The scathing report says the Police Department’s botched handling of the unrest stemmed from failures in every area: intelligence assessment, major event planning, field communication and operation, administration systems and among leaders from the department’s highest ranks.

The office’s findings:

· Breakdowns in the department’s mass arrest process resulted in its failure to arrest some offenders, the unsubstantiated detention and subsequent release of some arrestees without charges, and risks to officer and arrestee safety. Prior to the protests and unrest, the department had not trained its members on mass arrest procedures in years and did not plan for the possibility of a mass arrest incident.

· The department did not fulfill its reporting obligations with respect to its use of force and lacked clear and consistent policy guidance for its members on their reporting obligations. In a mass arrest context, this gave way to confusion that contributed to non-compliance. The department also lacks an authoritative record of uses of force deployed during the protests and unrest.

· The structure of the department’s operational response and gaps in its relevant policies crippled accountability processes. Policy gaps led to inconsistent review of uses of force, and large numbers of department members were deployed without body-worn cameras. Further, no systematic records were kept for where or when members were deployed; this, combined with violations of department policies requiring members to wear identifiers on their uniforms, rendered the investigation of and accountability for misconduct challenging and, in some cases, impossible.

Read the full report online.

The report details a lack of planning and coordination at every step of the summer’s unrest. The city’s and Police Department’s leaders weren’t prepared for the massive protests and looting, officers told investiagtors.

And when leaders did act, it was often without thorough planning and it led to more issues, the report shows.

Police officers, in talking to investigators from the Office of the Inspector General, compared the department’s strategy to playing “whack-a-mole,” with officers sent from situation to situation without any overarching strategy.

One officer said the department’s lack of preparation was “sad” since people could see from social media posts violence was possible. Another officer said his peers began bringing protective gear to work on their own initiative to prepare for social unrest when their commanders hadn’t given them a plan.

When violent clashes, looting and vandalism did start erupting May 29, there was no clear strategy for dealing with them from the city’s leaders. Officers were sent out during the unrest without knowing where to go, what to do or who to report to, according to the investigation.

Looting was a rampant issue, and officers had to “respond to one looting call after another,” according to the report. But some officers were seen doing nothing even when stores were burglarized or vandalized in front of them, leading the department to tell officers over the radio to start making arrests.

Lightfoot raised Downtown bridges, shut down the CTA and imposed a curfew as part of an effort to control crowds Downtown and stop the vandalism and looting.

But that came with a myriad of problems. Some officers told the Office of the Inspector General they weren’t informed of the curfew beforehand — even though the Police Department was supposed to enforce it.

RELATED: Even Police Thought Raising Chicago’s Bridges Was A Bad Idea During Unrest, Watchdog Finds

The Chicago Department of Transportation hadn’t been told to have crews ready to raise the bridges, meaning workers had to scramble to head Downtown. Police pushed and attacked protesters who were on bridges so they could be raised, leading to violent clashes.

In the end, some police officers didn’t think raising the bridges was an effective move — some even told the Inspector General’s Office it impeded the movements of officers. Police Supt. David Brown said it took too long and took time away from stopping people looting.

Amid the unrest, some officers didn’t wear body cameras or activate them, and the Police Department didn’t start reminding them until after major protests and clashes. And some officers purposefully obscured their identifying information. That’s posed “enormous” challenges when trying to investigate police misconduct and hold officers accountable for wrongdoing, according to the report.

And the report describes many instances of potential police misconduct.

RELATED: Police Accused Of Beating Protesters Avoided Consequences By Hiding Badge Numbers, Not Turning On Cameras: Report

Protesters told investigators from the Office of the Inspector General about officers beating them with batons, punching them, kicking them, throwing them and threatening them, among other things.

Body camera footage from May 30 shows a sample of the abuse, according to the report:

  • Officers ignored a detained man who asked for his seizure medication.
  • Officers ignored a woman who they found lying face-down on the floor of a transport wagon. “Chick’s having a seizure, I guess,” one officer said. The officer closed the car’s door without helping the woman.
  • An officer told someone who had been detained, but who was being “passive,” “I will tase you if you move, do you hear me?”
  • An officer called an arrested person a “little b—-” when the person said they were in pain.
  • An officer told other officers about how he made an arrested person cry by telling them they would be raped in jail.
  • An officer told other officers police should shoot people in the head.

In an emailed statement, the Police Department said it has “conducted an initial review” of the report and will “continue to review its findings.”

“Public safety and constitutional policing are not mutually exclusive,” according to the department. “The Chicago Police Department is continually striving to ensure officers treat all individuals they encounter with fairness, equity, and respect.”

The department did an “after-action review” of its actions after the unrest, and that included “discussion about areas that required improvement … including accountability, planning and preparedness, command and control, training and communication.”

The results of that review have helped the department’s leaders decide how to respond to similar situations while “protecting public safety and the rights of all individuals involved,” according to the department.

The Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued its own rebuke of the department’s actions after the Inspector General Office’s report was issued, saying the Police Department’s actions are “a sad legacy” for Chicago.

“Once again, the city and Chicago Police Department failed to plan in any meaningful way to ensure that officers on the ground would respect the First Amendment rights and safety of those marching for justice,” the group said in an emailed statement. “As a result, Chicago police retreated to their usual, discriminatory practices.

“Without leadership, guidance, and training from the top, we saw officers use batons and pepper spray against protesters, retaliate against people recording police violence in real time, and try to evade accountability by covering their names and star numbers and failing to document uses of force. We also saw officers do little to protect Black neighborhoods while enforcing a vague and overbroad curfew to overwhelmingly target Black people for arrests. It is ironic and unacceptable that protests that decried police violence were met with yet more police violence, efforts to evade accountability and racial injustice.”

The Mayor’s Office did not specifically respond to a request for comment on the findings about how the bridges were raised, though it did issue a statement in response to the report.

“As the Chicago Police Department acknowledged itself in its own candid and robust after-action report, there were many instances in which its efforts fell short systemically and where individual officers and supervisors failed to uphold the high standards that the public should expect from anyone who wears the badge,” according to the Mayor’s Office. “These officers were and will be held accountable, as noted by Superintendent David Brown at the time.

“The fact that [the Police Department] under the leadership of Supt. Brown has owned responsibility for its challenges and embraced the opportunity to do better is noteworthy. There were a number of lessons learned and opportunities for improvement that were put into place over the course of the summer and fall — notably in connection with the federal election.”

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