Home World Chicago watchdog warns Police Department crowd management training ‘insufficient’ ahead of DNC

Chicago watchdog warns Police Department crowd management training ‘insufficient’ ahead of DNC

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With less than three months until thousands of delegates and protestors arrive for the Democratic National Convention, the city’s watchdog agency released a report Thursday that warns the Chicago Police Department’s training and policies to manage crowds “are insufficient and may increase the risk of infringement of lawful demonstrators’ constitutional rights.”

While the report from Inspector General Deborah Witzburg acknowledged several of the department’s strides — improving its written policies and procedures after the fumbled response to unrest in 2020 — it highlighted a lack of community input in those policies and “outdated concepts and tactics” in CPD’s plans to manage crowds.

CPD shot back that the report is “based only on documents” and did not include interviews or observation of training sessions in advance of the DNC. The Police Department disagreed with several findings, arguing it had worked with the parties overseeing compliance with the consent decree to put those updated policies together.

Thursday’s 50-page inquiry follows up on a scathing 2021 review of the department’s actions during the unrest in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd.

That report found CPD “was under-equipped and unprepared to respond to the scale of the protests” and “identified failures within intelligence assessment, major event planning, field communication and operation, administrative systems, and, most significantly, from CPD’s senior leadership.”

That lack of preparedness endangered cops and protestors and allowed some of those accused of serious crimes to evade arrest or accountability, the review and CPD’s own after-action report concluded.

In May 2020, as looting and violence flared up across the city, the police department designated a parking lot near Guaranteed Rate Field as its “mobilization center.” Resources for officers were far from adequate, though.

Cops were ordered to start their tours of duty at the parking lot instead of their normal district station, hindering them from picking up certain pieces of equipment. As many as four officers had to share a single radio, and none of the officers assigned to the mobilization center had a body worn camera — “a must” for the 2024 DNC, Police Superintendent Larry Snelling told the Tribune Thursday.

CPD leaders at the mobilization center didn’t have a roster of personnel assigned to be there, so they relied on rank-and-file cops to form their own “platoons” to be dispatched across the city. One CPD deputy chief said the command structure in the parking lot was “sketchy,” while another officer described the mobilization center as a “clusterf—.”

In the four years since, the IG acknowledged CPD improved its planning with other city departments to respond to large-scale events, practiced for those events, and beefed up its inventory of cameras, encrypted radios and passenger vans to transport officers during emergencies.

“There’s better infrastructure in place for a coordinated city response, interdepartmental plans, clarity in the new proposed policies around mass arrest procedures and use of force reporting,”  Witzburg told the Tribune. “I also think there are some areas of concern, candidly.”

For one, the department is already training members on policies while it is still gathering community input, she said. The department also “lacks comprehensive guidance” for roll calls during a mass event — where the department should be communicating clear and consistent information to cops about to take to the street, Witzburg said.

The report says some of the city’s training materials related to crowd responses rely on old theories from the 1960s and 1990s that assume crowds have a tendency to affect individuals negatively and can lead to conflictual or criminal behavior. That belief — along with an assumption that bad actors are present — can risk “inducing or escalating” CPD’s response, the report said. More updated theories caution that police response can trigger people in the crowd to act more resistant and disorderly.

CPD’s guidance also “continues to permit the use of OC spray on passive resistors in a mass gathering setting,” she said, while other departments, like Philadelphia, “have very explicit guidance” that pepper spray “shall not be used” in a First Amendment gathering against “passive resistors.”

Department policy also lacks specifics about when the department can use corralling tactics sometimes known as kettling, Witzburg said. “Neither do they say that they are prohibited, nor do they offer guidance on when they might be permitted,” she said.

“We don’t do kettling,” Snelling said. The department uses “encirclement” to either rescue someone injured within a crowd or apprehend a target of arrest, he said.

“When we have a group of peaceful protestors who are sitting, and even if they’re breaking the law, we do not spray those people… We have a different way of removing those people without using that level of force,” Snelling said. “If we have an all-out fight where people are attacking police officers or attacking each other and we need to use OC spray, that call will be made by a higher authority based on the totality of circumstances and what’s occurring in the field.”

CPD’s response also said department training — including a recent course from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — includes the more updated and nuanced crowd behavior theories.

In 2020, the IG found cops were deployed without cameras, covered them up, had cameras with batteries run low or depleted after being deployed for so long, or didn’t turn them on, “leaving member-civilian interactions to go unrecorded or unreported.” That meant identifying cops accused of misconduct or corroborating conflicting narratives “were severely compromised,” the IG found. In some cases, cops couldn’t pick up cameras from their home districts.

Since then, the department has set aside 1370 “flex” body cameras across several area offices and purchased 40 passenger vans. In 2020, several cop cars were smashed or had their tires slashed, stranding officers or making it difficult to transport arrestees.

At an unrelated press conference Thursday, Mayor Brandon Johnson said he had not seen the report but said the city “is committed to constitutional policing.”

“Look, we’re still assessing and reviewing all of our safety provisions and plans for the DNC. And again, keep in mind, we’re going to work with the Secret Service and other local law enforcement agencies to ensure a peaceful but yet energetic convention,” Johnson said. “I’m confident that we’ll be prepared and ready when the day comes.”

Tribune reporter Alice Yin contributed to this article.

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