GAGE PARK — Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she still backs Police Supt. David Brown “1000 percent” the day after a scathing watchdog report found the Police Department, under Brown’s leadership, failed on every level when responding to unrest this summer.
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.
Brown and Lightfoot have faced harsh criticism for how the Police Department and city handled protests, looting and vandalism during the unrest.
But Lightfoot said she still has confidence in the police chief, who she picked to lead the department last spring. She said the department learned from its mistakes this summer by doing a review after the unrest, and the review was initiated by Brown.
“I have 1000 percent confidence in David Brown’s ability,” Lightfoot said at a news conference Friday morning. “I can’t think of another leader who said, ‘Let’s look at what happened, what went right, what the challenges were. And then we’re gonna put it out for the public to review it.’
“That’s David Brown’s leadership.”
Failures During Unrest
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.
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 — including Brown — weren’t prepared for the massive protests and looting, officers told investigators.
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. Brown was among those who said their strategy was akin to playing “whack-a-mole” or “leapfrog,” according to the report.
One officer said the department’s lack of preparation was “sad” since people could see from social media posts violence was happening in other cities. 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.
And despite chaos and violence between police, protesters and others Downtown on May 29, Brown said police “officers made the city of Chicago and the police profession proud!!” in an email quoted in the report.
After that, Lightfoot put the city under a curfew, shut down the CTA and raised bridges to try to keep people from Downtown.
The city and Police Department’s tactics pushed looters and vandals into more residential neighborhoods, where they burglarized, set fire to and damaged many businesses. The South and West sides, already struggling dues to years of disinvestment, were hit the hardest.
Throughout the unrest, there were documented instances of police abusing and harassing protesters — and even people who weren’t doing anything.
The report from the Office of the Inspector General details some of that abuse, saying footage shows officers ignoring people having medical emergencies, threatening people, bragging about making an arrested person cry by saying they’d be raped in jail and saying cops should shoot people in the head.
The report also includes testimony from protesters who said police officers kicked them, punched them, dragged them and attacked them in other ways.
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.
Time and time again during those days, Brown spoke at news conferences where he praised his officers for showing “restraint.”
In the wake of the summer protests and the police response, Chicagoans grew louder in demanding the city defund the Police Department and remove officers from public schools. Some demanded Brown and Lightfoot resign.
The Police Department conducted an “after-action review” of what happened during the summer. Lightfoot said Friday there “were some challenges, no question,” but the department learned how to improve from the review and is now “better poised” to respond to issues in the future.
“The Police Department, I think, has owned that responsibility in its own after-action report,” she said.
In an emailed statement Thursday, the Police Department said it will “continue to review its findings” from the report.
“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 after-action review 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 unrest happened when Brown was new to the office: He was sworn into office April 22 after being hand-selected by Lightfoot and approved by City Council. The first major protests Downtown happened May 29.
Brown has faced an uphill battle during his first year at the helm of the Police Department: The pandemic has posed unique challenges, and police have been criticized for widely refusing to wear masks that would protect them — and the people they serve — from coronavirus. Hundreds of officers have had COVID-19, and at least three have died.
The department is also operating under a consent decree — and it hasn’t enacted required reforms.
And scandals have put the department under increased scrutiny in recent years. Brown’s predecessor, Eddie Johnson, resigned early — and an investigation revealed he’d been found and let go by officers after driving drunk. Before Johnson, Garry McCarthy was forced out of the superintendent role after the city released video of police shooting Laquan McDonald.
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