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When Can Chicago Police Use Force? Deadline To Weigh In Is Thursday

 Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announced a new policy regarding the department's use of force.
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announced a new policy regarding the department's use of force.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

BRIDGEPORT — Chicago police officers would no longer be required to use the least amount of force necessary under new rules under consideration by the department's top brass.

A revised draft policy on officers' use of force now emphasizes the "sanctity of life" and requires officers to use force that is "reasonable and proportional," Supt. Eddie Johnson said.

In addition, language in the department's first attempt to rewrite its use-of-force policy that required officers to use force only when "no alternative appears to exist" has been removed.

Chicagoans have until noon Thursday to weigh in on the second draft of the revised policy, which has been praised by union leaders and condemned by critics of the department.

University of Chicago Law Professor Craig Futterman said the second draft of the rules governing how officers are allowed to use force is a "significant walk back" of limits on how officers can use physical force from the first draft, which was released in October.

"This signals that it is back to business as usual in Chicago," said Futterman, who is a frequent critic of the police department. "And that means the violation of the civil rights of the most vulnerable."

But Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo Sr. said the second draft of the policy reflected "practical" changes. The original draft of the new policy was designed by "people who don't do this for a living," Angelo said, calling critics of the department "armchair quarterbacks."

The first draft of the revised policy would have put "officers at risk of tragedy" at the hands of criminals by "endangering their lives," Angelo said.

The policy would no longer require officers to use de-escalation tactics when confronted with an uncooperative member of the public. Officers must use those tactics only "when it is safe and feasible," according to the second draft of the revised policy.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday said the effort to revise the use-of-force policy was "one part of the comprehensive reform" coming to the Police Department.

But Emanuel would not comment on the specifics of the policy, saying he did not want to "prejudge" the final version.

Emanuel said the goal was to give the officers the "certainty" they need to be proactive to fight a surge of murders and shootings concentrated on Chicago's West and South sides.

Futterman said the second draft of the policy correctly and appropriately eliminates language allowing an officer to shoot when he or she "reasonably believes" it is necessary.

Now officers may only use force when necessary because of a threat to their life or imminent bodily harm, according to the policy.

"That is consistent with best practices across the country," Futterman said.

But the rest of the second draft of the draft policy is much worse than the first version, which already had "significant problems," Futterman said.

The revised policy now under consideration would no longer require officers to physically stop other officers from using excessive force against a member of the public. Officers would only have to "verbally intervene on a subject's behalf," according to the revised draft.

In addition, the first draft of the revised use-of-force policy would have obligated officers to offer members of the public injured by an officer medical help. Now, the policy says officers "may" offer first aid, but are under no obligation to do so.

Johnson said he expects the policy to be finalized this spring and implemented after all officers are trained on the details.

Rank-and-file officers are concerned that training won't be comprehensive or complete, Angelo said.

"We want to avoid the 'gotcha' moment," Angelo said. "They are going to have to step up their game on training, which should be done face to face."

The effort to change the rules governing how officers use force was sparked by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, which also prompted an investigation by the Department of Justice that found Chicago officers routinely violated the civil rights of residents by using excessive force caused by poor training and nonexistent supervision.

Johnson said Tuesday he would create a "force review unit" charged with examining each incident in which an officer uses force against a member of the public to identify trends and recommend policy changes and additional training for officers.

The department is not waiting for members of the Trump administration to negotiate a legally binding agreement — known as a consent decree — that would implement reforms under the authority of a federal judge, Johnson said.

"We don't need a piece of paper to show we are doing it," Johnson said.

But Futterman said he agreed with former U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, who said this week the department absolutely needs to reach a consent decree with the federal government in order to reform the Police Department.

A consent decree is unlikely under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long been a critic of the agreements.

"The city and the CPD lack the will to reform the department without the hammer of a consent decree," Futterman said. "The culture is far too entrenched."