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Rahm: Cops To Get More Tasers, Wants More 'Humanity' in CPD Approach

By  Kelly Bauer and Ted Cox | December 30, 2015 8:04am | Updated on December 31, 2015 9:50am

 A Taser stun gun can be seen in this file photo.
A Taser stun gun can be seen in this file photo.
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Getty Images/file photo

DOWNTOWN — Chicago Police officers will have greater access to Taser stun guns under what the Emanuel administration described Wednesday as "a major overhaul" of how police are trained and equipped.

In his first public appearance since cutting short a Cuban family holiday to deal with a crisis in confidence with the Police Department, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his "ultimate goal" was to "rebuild the trust where it has been lost."

Emanuel added, "Ultimately, what we're doing is injecting some humanity into the work of our Police Department and our police officers." He called for the "complete and total reform of both the system and the police culture."

The mayor said interim Police Supt. John Escalante and new Independent Police Review Authority head Sharon Fairley would be assigned to "review the crisis-response strategies" in the Department.

Both Emanuel and Escalante spoke of training officers to create "the time and distance" in encounters with the public so that they're, in Emanuel's words, "less confrontational and more conversational" and "where force can be the last option, not the first choice."

Escalante called them "mitigation or de-escalation techniques."

Although the Mayor's Press Office issued a statement late Tuesday saying every officer who responds to calls will have access to a stun gun and be trained to use one by June 1, Escalante clarified Wednesday that 21 percent of the Department is trained in using Tasers and that would be doubled.

"Obviously, we need to get more," he added.

The number of Tasers under the new effort will double to 1,400, Emanuel said, so that every squad car should have one.

Tasers shoot electrodes designed to stun the intended targets.

Questions about why the devices aren't used more by Chicago police have grown in recent months in the wake of high-profile Chicago police shootings that killed three people.

The death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald attracted national attention, including a gathering Tuesday night at Emanuel's Ravenswood home. In that case, the teen was shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke 16 times even as other officers requested backup with a Taser.

Emanuel said Wednesday that shooting showed "we have a problem."

Last weekend, the department faced further criticism after an officer "accidentally" shot and killed 55-year-old Bettie Jones. A Quintonio LeGrier, a 19-year-old college student who may have been suffering from mental distress, was also killed during the same incident — police have said that he was waving a baseball bat at the time. Jones was an innocent bystander caught in the shooting, police admit.

Emanuel insisted his call for reforms was part of a national movement demanding more police accountability.

"Every city is going through a change in police practice and tactics and also culture," he said. "Chicago is not unique that way."

He allowed that it was overdue and said the solution would not be instantaneous.

"We haven't, as a city, done everything we have to under my tenure," Emanuel said. "But anybody would tell you, that challenge that Chicago is facing, its Police Department in this city, is not only not unique, it's not over four years, it's four, five decades in the making, and the changes we're trying to do will also not be done in four years. But we will finish the job top to bottom."

Police policies on how officers respond to incidents and use lethal force will be changed, as well, officials said. Officers involved in shootings will be on desk duty for 30 days, up from the current three days during initial investigation into the incidents, Emanuel said, "so we can assess their fitness for duty."

Emanuel told reporters Wednesday that just because officers are trained to use lethal force does not mean they should use it indiscriminately. Escalante said the goal was to change the way officers think when they approach an incident.

The changes will focus on better training of de-escalation tactics "to reduce the intensity of a conflict or a potentially violent situation at the earliest possible moment," according to a statement from the mayor's office.

New training approaches will begin next week.

"Do I believe today we have the opportunity to, in a fundamental way, make fundamental changes? Yes, and I intend to see them from start to finish," Emanuel told reporters at City Hall.

The changes will help make the job of being a police officer safer, Emanuel added, describing how officers "operate in dangerous and difficult circumstances every day."

"It is essential that they have the right guidance, training, and tactics to ensure the safety of our residents and themselves,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel granted that police officers have "a very difficult and dangerous job," adding, "Like all of us, they are human and they make mistakes."

Yet he emphasized, "Willful misconduct and abuse cannot and will not be tolerated," as it "undermines" other officers and the law-enforcement system.

In his report to the City Council last October, then-Supt. Garry McCarthy touted police training on the use of force and confronting violent offenders. McCarthy said that police-involved shootings were down 38 percent from last year and 65 percent from 2011.

How police de-escalate crisis situations involving mentally ill or drug-using suspects has become a focus not only in Chicago but elsewhere in the country. In the case of McDonald, the teen was found to have had drugs in his system.

Only about 1,800 of Chicago's 12,000 sworn officers — about 15 percent — have taken the department's voluntary crisis-intervention training, Fox32 reported.

Mental-health advocates tell the station that it has been pressuring the Emanuel administration for years to increase training, but there's been no money for new training classes since last summer. Some funds are now available for the 40-hour course, and police aim to train 910 more officers in 2016, starting next month.

On Wednesday, Escalante called the weekend events "a tragic accident."

Emanuel said trust of the police by the public has "frayed to the point where it is broken."

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner called the weekend shootings "deeply troubling," and added they demand "us to question why more options other than lethal force aren't available to police officers.”

“This tragedy further underscores the need for a broad and deep federal investigation, which I continue to strongly support," the governor said.

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