Chicago's police missed the mark with their safety tips. Here's what they could have done.
Crawling back from a generation of corruption needs to be handled with care.
On Aug. 7, 2015, the Chicago Police Department offered some "tips" on how to stay safe in any neighborhood.
On Twitter, the department shared a list of 14 suggestions for people to follow. While it's framed as general "how to stay safe" advice, when you start reading the list, it seems — weirdly — more like a guide on how to stay safe from the police.
Some Twitter users took the department to task for the list, accusing the department of blaming victims of police brutality.
Some pointed out that this list comes off a bit like the types of victim-blaming tips you see advising women on how not to get raped.
- "Be smart about with whom, when, and where you hang out?"
- "Avoid playing the music loudly?"
- "Confrontation leads to confrontation?"
Isn't it supposed to be the police's job to de-escalate situations? Maybe the police should spend put together "tips" for how officers can avoid shooting unarmed people?
And Twitter user @NovaTess made a few "edits" to the list of tips:
- Cops, remember that your actions and attitude can impact the situation positively or negatively.
- Remember that every person, and every black man in particular, is not a criminal.
- Be smart — don't lie. For whom, when, and where is irrelevant.
- Do not shoot when dealing with unarmed people.
- Cops, do not curse or raise your voices — stay calm. Remember — confrontation leads to confrontations ... especially when you whip out your guns.
- Keep your hands off your gun unless confronted with deadly imminent force.
- If you pull someone over, don't shoot them because they don't have a license.
- Before shooting someone, ask if they have any illegal weapons that they plan on shooting you with in the next few seconds. If they don't, don't shoot.
Of the 10 largest cities in the country, Chicago has had more police-involved shootings than any other.
A report by the Better Government Association uncovered some concerning pieces of data. For example, nearly 60% of all shootings occurred in the police districts located in Calumet, Deering, Englewood, Grand Crossing, Gresham, and Morgan Park. For areas that account for just a small fraction of the city's population, 41 people have been killed by police in the past five years.
The Chicago Police Department has a gruesome past when it comes to excessive force, brutality, and shootings.
Between 1972 and 1991 under former detective Jon Burge's command, more than 100 suspects were tortured into providing coerced confessions. Burge's crimes are often credited for being what led Illinois to put an end to the state death penalty, after former Gov. George Ryan emptied death row and pardoned four of Burge's torture victims in 2003.
In April 2015, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city would be creating a $5.5 million reparations fund for Burge's living survivors.
In February 2015, The Guardian ran a report about a "black site" located in a warehouse at Homan Square. The paper describes it as "an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site."
And cover-ups within oversight departments don't particularly help matters.
The Independent Police Review Authority, the group that the Chicago Police Department's "tips" advise the public take their complaints to, has investigated hundreds of police shootings since 2007 (this figure includes non-fatal shootings), with only a few found as "not justified" and just one where they recommended an officer be fired for a shooting.
In July 2015, IPRA Supervising Investigator Lorenzo Davis was fired from the department after he refused to clear six officers he found had been involved in unjustified shootings. Despite the fact that Davis had been working with the police department for more than two decades, he received a performance evaluation that said he "displays a complete lack of objectivity combined with a clear bias against the police."
Instead of offering "tips" on how not to become a victim of police brutality, perhaps the Chicago PD should follow the lead of Austin, Texas.
While Chicago's police have a document outlining the "rights" of anyone stopped by police ("You will be treated with dignity and respect," forbidding of racial profiling or physical violence, and so on), they could do a lot of good by instead putting together a comprehensive list of expectations their officers should be held to. A great example is the easily accessible document used by the Austin, Texas, police force.
Austin's Law Enforcement Code of Ethics document provides a solid outline for how to interact with the public and, more importantly, puts the onus on maintaining a peaceful situation on the officer.
What should the list sent out by Chicago's police have looked like? Maybe a bit like this:
"As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property. ... I will maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. ... I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence. ... I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of police service. ... I know that I alone am responsible for my own standard of professional performance. ... I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals."
Sadly, Austin has its own issues involving shootings and brutality claims. But the messaging in on point.
It's an officer's responsibility to control any situation that gets thrown their way. While many do a great job of keeping the peace, others seem not to have gotten that memo.
If instead of tweeting out a list of rules for the public to follow, the department tweeted out a list of standards to which their officers should be held, the police might begin regain the public's trust and put to rest its controversial past.