DOWNTOWN — Chicago police officers — especially new ones — receive outdated, unconstitutional training that puts lives at risk and creates tension in city neighborhoods, according to a scathing report from the U.S. Justice Department.
The report slammed the Chicago Police Academy for gross inadequacies in its training of new officers that puts their lives in danger before they hit the streets and then leaves them ill-equipped to handle dangerous situations in the city’s neighborhoods.
At least one officer described the training situation as a "hot mess."
“The failures we identified in our findings — that we heard about from residents and officers alike — have deeply eroded community trust,” Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division, said at a Friday press conference.
Gupta said federal investigators found new recruits at the Chicago Police Academy, 1300 W. Jackson Blvd., were shown training videos that were decades out of date and included unconstitutional teachings on the use of force.
The full report further stated that training on the use of force was so bad that only one in six probationary police officers could come close to correctly articulating the legal standard for use of force.
The report says the Police Department has known for nearly 10 years that it needs to overhaul its training practices. It also said the current instructors are grossly underprepared, and there are too few to train the current number of recruits, let alone train a new crop of hires.
Investigators found that in scenario-based training, recruits were being taught tactics, such as parking in front of the location of an emergency call, that would put their lives in danger once they hit the streets.
The Justice Department’s expert said that “trainings such as this instill bad tactics, and often, bad tactics lead officers into a situation that requires a use of force that could otherwise have been avoided.”
That’s if recruits can make it to patrol duty without getting injured in training facilities the report called “dangerous” and “exceptionally substandard.”
“The armory room — a former school office — was unlocked with loaded guns left in open, unlocked cubbies in a room left unattended,” the report says. “Training guns and ammunition were stored close to guns loaded with live rounds.”
The report says that training guns could easily be mistaken for real guns, or stolen, and it questioned why the Police Department would run such a facility next door to a school.
At a press conference coinciding with the release of the report, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to improve police training.
"We need to support our officers and give them the resources to do their jobs as they have asked for in this report," Emanuel said during the announcement. "We need to provide clear policies, consistent leadership and certainty across training."
Emanuel has called for the Police Department to hire 1,000 new officers, a goal the report says the department does not have the resources or staff to meet.
“Our co-workers are going to die because of no training,” one officer told investigators.
The report says the Police Department is doing almost nothing to root out recruits who would make bad officers.
“Because training and the evaluation of its impact on new recruits is so deficient, CPD cannot properly identify which recruits need further training or even dismissal, resulting in new recruits policing Chicago communities who, despite their best intentions, from the outset are ill-equipped and perhaps incapable of policing effectively and constitutionally,” the report says.
The report says the field training is even worse and “actively undermines, rather than reinforces, constitutional policing.”
Even high-ranking officers call the training, which pairs a probationary officer with a veteran field training officer, a “hot mess” and “terrible” in the report.
The Police Department actively discourages qualified officers from becoming mentors to new recruits by cutting off their chances for promotion, creating “a road to nowhere,” one police training official stated in the report.
The report praised the Policee Department for ending “Operation Impact Zone,” a program that put new officers in crime “hot zones” in the city.
“They are justifiably unprepared and overwhelmed by these assignments, which impacts their acceptance of community policing principles, decreases their confidence and clouds their perception of those communities,” the report says.
Proposed changes and updates by the Police Department should be closely monitored because the department has known for almost a decade that its training programs need a complete overhaul, the report says.
The city and Police Department are expected to negotiate a consent decree with Justice Department that will include commitments to improving officer training.