Chicago Police & Tasers? Community Input Not Wanted!

An alternative is only an alternative if it used in replacement of the original.  When the use of the alternative is expanded beyond the use of the original it no longer is an alternative, it becomes an original.  Simple logic to follow right?

The Chicago Police Department (CPD), with the willing assistance of some of the local media, informed Chicago residents that the CPD will be greatly expanding the deployment and use of tasers by their officers as an alternative to using deadly force.  In reading the local press it becomes clear pretty quickly to most people, except the journalists writing and editors approving the stories, that the CPD is going to be allowing use of the tasers in situations where they would not use deadly force.  This means that tasers will be used in situations when officers would not use their guns.  This is clearly an expansion of the use of force currently allowed under CPD rules and not a replacement of previous methods.

Frank Main 3/11/10 (Sun Times)
“Department policy allows officers to use Tasers only on people who are considered assailants or are resisting arrest.”

Annie Sweeney & Kristen Schorsch 3/10/10 (Chicago Tribune)
“Officers are instructed to use the Tasers when they are being attacked or if an offender is resisting arrest or trying to flee.”

For a better way to do this reporting look for Taser Maze about half way down in this column, here.

Taser - Sun TimesWhile the Tribune story is light-years ahead of the Sun Times story neither is clear about when tasers can be used.  Is the public supposed to guess at the definitions of fleeing – resisting arrest – what constitutes an officer being attacked, or is there some sort of clear universal understanding of what they mean?  I bet somewhere in the general orders within the department there must be some sort of documentation that communicates to the beat officers what these terms mean. For that matter why doesn’t either paper either quote from or provide in PDF format a copy of the guidelines on their site?

The CPD is not supposed to shoot someone who is fleeing unless they are doing so in a method that immediately endangers someone’s life.  Now the CPD can use the tasers to halt a fleeing suspect.  This is not a replacement of the use of deadly force it is the expansion of the use of force.

Does this mean that tasers are always going to be used in inappropriate fashion by officers?  No.  The problem here is that the CPD used the media to spread a propaganda campaign to sell this to the public as if they are only going to be used in situations when officers would have otherwise used their gun.  This simply is not true.  Does this mean CPD officers should not carry tasers?  I really don’t have an answer at this point.  I know that in a very limited role they can be and have been effective; however, as with all significant expansions in the arsenal of the CPD they have failed to allow the public to have any input into the process.

As part of the Chicago Coalition for Police Accountability, I took part in a meeting with the Superintendent and several other members of the department back on July 28th, 2008 to discuss the issue of the deployment of the M4 assault rifle.  In this meeting the CPD talked about the fact they were studying the idea of greater deployment of the tasers to beat officers.  How much public input was sought by the CPD in the intervening 20 months?  None that I am aware of.  This is not how a police agency that seeks community partnerships should act, unilaterally.  It seems very disingenuous for a police agency to speak constantly about community policing and their commitment to communities but continue a long track record of failing to seek input from communities about any additions they make to their arsenal.

For there to be any trust between the CPD and communities about the use of these weapons the CPD needs to act differently than they have for 100 years, they need to be open and transparent.  Every time one of these weapons is used the department should provide communities the following information, at a minimum:

  • Rank and assignment of the officer
  • Demographics of the officer
  • Demographics of the individual tased
  • Time of incident
  • Location/address of incident
  • Number of times the individual was tased
  • Number of times this officer has used a taser in the past
  • Crime for which the individual was being arrested
  • If the arrest resulted in charges being filed or approved
  • A complete summary of the details of the incident including why the weapon was used and what alternatives to the use of the weapon were attempted prior to using the weapon

Do I expect any of this information to be released from the extremely secret CPD?  No.  I guess the deployment and use of tasers will just be one more in a long line of reasons why communities of color throughout Chicago have to distrust the CPD.

Picture courtesy of the Chicago Sun Times.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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