CPD Identifies 20 ‘Weaknesses’ In Its Response To Last Summer’s Protests, But Doesn’t Mention Brutality Allegations

chicago protest
Protesters gather in Chicago June 1, 2020. Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ
chicago protest
Protesters gather in Chicago June 1, 2020. Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ

CPD Identifies 20 ‘Weaknesses’ In Its Response To Last Summer’s Protests, But Doesn’t Mention Brutality Allegations

Protesters in Chicago claimed they were brutalized by police, business owners had their stores ransacked and Chicago cops complained of a lack of planning and leadership over the summer during the most stressful days of their policing careers.

Now, the Chicago Police Department has completed its own assessment of how it handled the protests and looting.

The “after-action” report, which was published last week by CPD, identifies nearly 20 “weaknesses” in the department’s response – but the internal review makes no mention of the brutality alleged by activists and glosses over complaints from officers that department failures put cops at risk.

The internal review comes as a court-appointed monitor is investigating how the Chicago Police Department handled the protests and as activists sue the city for alleged misconduct and brutality by dozens of officers.

In a lawsuit filed last fall, 60 activists claimed the department’s response to the protests were “brutal, violent and unconstitutional.”

According to the CPD report, nearly 600 complaints of misconduct were filed against officers for alleged actions between May 29 and June 11, when the city saw massive protests and widespread looting after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The department is reviewing those complaints “to identify common themes,” but the report does not include any specifics from those complaints.

Northwestern University Law Professor Sheila Bedi said the report is “consistent” with the department’s overall response to protests, and the lack of concern for the rights and safety of protesters.

“We saw officers valuing property over people,” said Bedi, who is representing the activists in their lawsuit against the city. “In this report, the word business is used at least 27 times. But there’s not one mention of the lethal head strikes that officers used. There’s not one mention of the individuals who have been left with serious injuries as a result of CPD’s response, not one mention of the trauma that so many Chicagoans are still suffering because of CPD’s failures.”

The report does say that “a number of officers” were seriously injured during the chaos, including “broken bones, lacerations, burns, and abrasions.”

Overall, the picture painted by the report is of a command staff that believes they had the proper plans and protocols in place to handle mass unrest, but failed to effectively communicate those plans to on-the-ground officers, failed to properly train beat cops and supervisors and failed to provide department personnel with adequate equipment.

But Bedi said even those admissions fail to speak to the current moment and she said it is a sign of the department’s “intransigence to reform” that after a summer of calls for defunding the department, and after many documented failures, the department’s solution is more training and new equipment, which will both require more money.

On training, the report said “department leaders and key members lacked recent, up-to-date training or practice” on the systems used during major incidents and that officers were not up-to-speed on mass arrest procedures.

“The Department has a substantial written procedure governing mass arrest incidents that works in theory but … broke down in practice,” the report reads. “As a result, many of the individuals arrested during the events were either released without charging … or had charges … dropped by prosecutors because the arresting officer or officers could not be identified.”

The communication issues, according to the report, started with a failure to hold roll calls during the summer’s chaos. Those stand-up meetings at the start of a shift are a supervisor’s opportunity to communicate standards and expectations to every officer working under them. That didn’t happen during the unrest, according to the report, leaving officers to respond to dangerous and difficult situations with little-to-no-information about tactics and strategy.

The report also says the lack of instructions from supervisors likely contributed to the well-documented problem of officers removing or covering their badges during protests, an apparent attempt to avoid accountability.

“The report acknowledges that officers engage systemically in the practice of covering up their badges and covering up their name tags so that they could not be identified,” Bedi said. “Now, the report describes that as really a failure of implementing the uniform policy. And, of course, that’s incorrect. The reality is that police officers cover up their badges, cover up their name tag, so they can engage in acts of violence with impunity.”

Robert Boik, executive director of community policing for CPD, said he expects the independent monitor investigating the department will identify some of the same issues documented by the department.

Maggie Hickey was appointed by federal Judge Robert Dow to oversee the city’s police reform efforts under the court-enforced agreement known as a consent decree. Last year Dow urged Hickey to take a special look at police actions during protests.

Officials say the department has turned over 4,496 documents to Hickey as part of that special investigation, and that department members sat for 82 hours of interviews about the protest response between July and November.

Hickey’s report is still pending.

“We thought it was incumbent upon the department to do our own review and to be as thorough as we can be while not waiting for the monitor’s report,” Boik said. “We did an extensive look at what we were able to accomplish this summer, what some of our gaps were, what some of our successes were and try to do our best to put in place plans to mitigate those gaps.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.