The Chicago Police Department, struggling to regain public trust in the wake of a video of a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times, on Wednesday released a new use of force policy that requires officers undergo de-escalation training and imposes stricter rules on when they can fire their weapons at fleeing suspects.
Under the final version of the policy —which replaces a policy in place since 2002 — officers can no longer shoot a fleeing suspect after they committed or tried to commit a felony using deadly force. Now, officers can only shoot a fleeing suspect “only as a last resort to prevent an immediate threat of death of great bodily harm posed to officers or another person.” It also expands the definition of deadly force to include chokeholds and striking a person’s head with an “impact weapon.”
The new policy also addresses long held public suspicions that there is a so-called “code of silence” in which officers stay quiet about or conceal misconduct by other officers — suspicions that the department itself confirmed last year when Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson recommended that officers at the scene of the 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald be fired for filing false reports.
Under the new policy, any officer who witnesses another officer violating the use-of-force policy must intervene and report the incident to a supervisor. Further, it explicitly bars anyone from retaliating against an officer who reports such an incident or cooperates with an excessive force investigation.
The policy change comes about 18 months after the city was forced by a judge to release the video of the shooting of McDonald. That video sparked major protests, prompted the firing of Johnson’s predecessor, Garry McCarthy, and prosecutors charging Officer Jason Van Dyke with murder, as well as a federal Department of Justice investigation which led to a scathing report that the outlined a long history of civil rights violations and excessive force by police. It also led Johnson to release a draft of the policy last October and another draft this past March.
The McDonald shooting, Johnson acknowledged on Wednesday, “may have given us a springboard to move forward and change some things,” according to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times. In that same story, William Calloway, a community activist, said of the policy: “this is a big win for us, our voices were heard.”
Johnson also pointed to the policy as part of an effort to regain the public trust that was shattered by the McDonald video.
“It is among the first examples of what I consider to be the vital partnership we need in our city where officers and residents work together to shape how we make our streets safer,” he said in a statement.
But the president of the police officers union, Kevin Graham, was critical of the new policy. Pointing to incidents in which Chicago police officers have been shot in recent weeks and the growing combativeness of offenders, Graham said, “We do not believe that extensive changes should be made to the current Use of Force policy.”