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

Investigators face "enormous" obstacles in trying to look into police misconduct from the unrest because so many officers hid their identifying information or didn't wear body cameras, violating policy.

A police officer's badge number is obscured on a uniform outside the Chicago Police Academy in the West Loop during a protest demanding that Chicago Public Schools divest from the Chicago Police Department on June 4, 2020. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Police officers broke department rules by hiding their identities and not turning on body cameras, creating “enormous” obstacles to investigating misconduct during this summer’s unrest, a new watchdog report found.

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 officers beat, harassed and pepper sprayed protesters — but it will be difficult to investigate misconduct because so many officers hid their badge numbers or ignored body camera policies.

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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.

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 details numerous incidents of police abusing and harassing protesters and detained people.

But officers also broke department rules by covering up their badge numbers and other identifying information and by not activating body cameras. That’s made it challenging for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, known as COPA, and other agencies to investigate potential misconduct and punish officers who did wrong, according to the 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.

The report notes those incidents were caught on body cameras, though it does not say what happened to the officers involved.

But much of what occurred on the ground those days was not captured by body cameras.

While officers are required to activate their cameras during arrests and when using force, just 18 percent of the 1,519 arrest reports made May 29-June 7 included information from officers saying they had body camera footage of the incident.

And of the 113 reported uses of force May 29-June 7, just 43 percent appeared to have been caught on body camera footage.

The Police Department also deployed officers who were not given opportunities to get body-worn cameras or told about the policy, according to the report. This resulted in many officers being sent throughout the city without cameras, like SWAT team members who used pepper spray without proper documentation, the report says.

And some younger officers who had body cameras were confused about whether they should activate them, according to the report. The Police Department didn’t send out emails until June 1 — after massive demonstrations and violent clashes Downtown — reminding officers to activate their cameras during protests.

Police Department “members did not consistently capture critical incidents on [body-worn cameras] as required by its policy or in a manner that would ensure transparency and accountability,” according to the report.

That’s led to major hurdles for investigators who are looking into the numerous complaints of police misconduct from the summer unrest.

The report notes personnel from COPA — which investigates police misconduct — said they did not have the body-worn camera footage necessary to investigate alleged misconduct from May and June protests. That’s been “a major challenge to the agency’s investigation of complaints,” according to the report.

Leaders in the Police Department acknowledged officers’ body cameras should have been activated during demonstrations, but they were not, according to the report.

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

Another major issue was officers obscuring identifying information on their uniforms, making it “impossible … to identify the perpetrators of any alleged misconduct,” according to the report.

During the summer, officers placed black tape over their badge numbers and surnames or took other steps to hide their identities. City leaders said they’d punish officers who did that, but there were still “dozens” of complaints about the practice.

And that figure is likely an undercount, according to the report.

“The number of complaints likely understates the total number of incidents; a senior COPA official reported receiving, in addition to actual complaints, calls and emails about obscured identifiers from members of the public who did not want to file a complaint, but wanted COPA to know the scope of the problem,” according to the Office of the Inspector General.

Several commanders told the office’s investigators they knew or heard of only a “small number of officers” who hid their information. They told officers to remove tape that hid their identifying information, but took no further action, they told the investigators.

But investigators from the Office of the Inspector General saw “numerous” instances of officers hiding their identities when looking at footage of the protests.

The Police Department sent out reminders to officers about the agency’s uniform policy on June 2 and daily June 4-7. And Lightfoot said officers caught obscuring their identifiers would be stripped of police powers.

Some officers told investigators from the Office of the Inspector General some might have covered their numbers or nametags to protect their families from harassment. A commander said he knew of an officer whose photo was taken at a protest, and people then found the officer’s partner on Facebook and harassed them.

To investigate those claims, the Office of the Inspector General requested records on incidents where officers were threatened, harassed or had their identities “doxxed” in person or on social media. The Police Department produced records for four officers — one of whom was “doxxed” because he had covered his badge number in a photo.

The officers’ “practice of obscuring their identifiers during the protests compounded significant structural accountability challenges,” according to the report. “With unidentifiable officers, little in the way of [body-worn camera] footage and no records on which officers were working where, the obstacles to thoroughly investigating potential misconduct — and even identifying which officers might have committed misconduct — are enormous.”

Read the full report online.

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