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New Use-Of-Force Guidelines For Chicago Police


Earlier this year, the Chicago Police Department was in the spotlight after a scathing Department of Justice report found police officers regularly violated civil rights when they used force. The police department vowed to make big changes, and those changes take effect tomorrow. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Chicago patrol officers and detectives, both in and out of uniform, showed up recently for one of the last training sessions for the department's new use-of-force policy. On the tables are blue worksheets for officers to note how the policy relates to different scenarios while watching videos of real police encounters.


UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Drop it right now. You're going to get shot. Drop the knife, Jerry (ph).

CORLEY: In this video, Fort Collins, Colo., police are talking to a man with a knife who approached them. In an effort to create the split-second decision-making needed on the streets, officers have just a few moments to fill out their worksheets.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: List the three most important factors that you observed.

CORLEY: Chicago Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro says this training is just the beginning.

KEVIN NAVARRO: I've been a Chicago police officer for a long time, and I can tell you this is monumental. This is going to give the training to the officers and will give them the confidence to go on the street to react and act in the proper way.

CORLEY: The policy changes follow a Department of Justice investigation and furious protest in late 2015 after the city released a year-old video showing a white police officer shooting black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Sixteen shots and a cover-up.


: Sixteen shots and a cover-up.

CORLEY: The officer, Jason Van Dyke, who's awaiting trial, was charged with murder.

MARK LEMUS: So our highest priority is the sanctity of life.

CORLEY: Sergeant Mark Lemus says that sanctity of life applies to police and civilians in any incident. Gone - at least officially - is a so-called code of silence. Officers will be required to both intervene and report incidents of excessive force. The policy also emphasizes de-escalation tactics and states that any use of force must be objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional. Lori Lightfoot is a civilian who heads the Chicago Police Board. She thinks a new policy represents real change.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: Whether or not all of this engagement and rewriting of the policy and training is going to make a difference will really be borne out on the day-to-day interactions that we see on the street. But I'm optimistic based upon what I've seen so far.

CORLEY: University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris studies police use of force and considers Chicago's new policy groundbreaking. He says it provides a much more detailed standard for officers to follow.

DAVID HARRIS: These kinds of tactical parts of the policy are important in telling officers, look, we know what you're facing. There are ways to handle this. And we want to train you thoroughly so that you have an idea of what your options are, not go for use of force or nothing.

CORLEY: Unlike the Chicago Police Board, the Fraternal Order of Police Local which represents rank-and-file Chicago officers doesn't like the new policy and filed a complaint. The local ACLU chapter went a step further. It filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of several groups, including people with disabilities. Karen Sheley says too often Chicago police use excessive force and mishandle them.

KAREN SHELEY: We have decades of ingrained problems within the Chicago Police Department. And a four-hour training is a positive step, but it's not enough to ensure a culture change. That's what we need.

CORLEY: The Chicago Police Department says what this and future training aims to do is help create that cultural shift, reinforcing a safer way for the police and the public to interact. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.
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