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Chicago Mayor To Replace Police Review Board With More Independent Watchdog

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to scrap a police review board and replace it with a more independent and better-funded watchdog to investigate police shootings and other misconduct cases, he wrote in a newspaper column.

The decision to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) comes a month after a task force released a scathing report recommending a new board to help mend strained relations between Chicago’s police force and the city’s minority communities.

The task force report said IPRA was underfunded and staffed by former law enforcement officials whose findings were routinely reversed by the body’s leaders.

“It is clear that a totally new agency is required to rebuild trust in investigations of officer-involved shootings and the most serious allegations of police misconduct,” Emanuel wrote in an article posted late on Friday on the Chicago Sun-Times’ website.

Emanuel has been besieged by calls for his resignation since the city, after months of delay, released a video of a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager in October 2014. In the footage, the teen appears to be retreating from the policeman just before he was killed.

Protests have erupted in a number of U.S. cities in the past two years over police-involved killings of African-Americans and other minorities.

IPRA was formed in 2007 to respond to community concerns about police accountability. Critics have long questioned the length of time the body takes to make rulings, and the frequency with which it finds justification for police actions in cases of alleged misconduct.

In the Sun-Times piece, Emanuel offered few details, but wrote that his administration would present a more comprehensive reform plan at a city council meeting on June 22.

The cash-strapped city is struggling with unfunded pension liabilities and major budget cuts for schools, so it is not clear how Emanuel would obtain additional resources for police oversight.

The officer in the 2014 shooting, Jason Van Dyke, 38, was suspended without pay after he was charged in the slaying of Laquan McDonald, 17. Van Dyke, who pleaded not guilty to a murder charge, is on bail awaiting trial. The city paid $5 million to McDonald’s family who had been considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit.


Reporting by Justin Madden; Editing by Frank McGurty and Matthew Lewis

Photo: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel participates in a panel discussion on Reducing Violence and Strengthening Policy and Community Trust at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington January 20, 2016.   REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Are Tasers The Way To Reduce Fatal Shootings By Police?

By Stephen Montemayor, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS — Deadly police shootings across the country are forcing some big city police departments to take a new look at whether stun guns — typically called Tasers — could reduce the number of fatal encounters between officers and the public.

Last month, for example, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to buy hundreds of additional Tasers for his city’s police department and ensure every officer is trained to use them by June. The plans followed heated protests after a dashboard video showed an officer shooting a fleeing teen 16 times in a 2014 confrontation.

But equipping all police officers with Tasers is expensive, and the evidence that the devices reduce the number of officer-involved shootings is mixed: A 2010 expansion of Tasers in Chicago failed to produce a dip in police shootings. In addition, Tasers themselves also have proved to be deadly at times.

Though law enforcement analysts concede that Tasers are not a perfect solution, some say it is inevitable that alternatives to deadly force will get a longer look within major departments, including Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“They are going to have to budget for that,” said Jeff Garland, a defense tactics instructor at Hennepin Technical College who spent 31 years in law enforcement. “If they don’t look at alternatives, the other alternative is like in Ferguson, Cleveland and Baltimore: You’re going to be paying a heck of a lot more money with wrongful death suits.”

Tasers don’t guarantee non-deadly encounters, however. A Star Tribune database of deaths after police use of force since 2000 includes more than a dozen deaths after encounters in which a Taser was used — though some cases also involved guns.

One man died when he fell and hit his head after an officer hit him with a Taser. Another “experienced a medical event” and died. A 76-year-old nursing home patient died after being tased and a 26-year-old’s heart stopped on the way to jail.

Studies and U.S. Supreme Court decisions influenced Taser guidelines advising officers not to use the device on a person for longer than five seconds at a time.

A 2014 study published by the American Heart Association said the devices can cause cardiac arrest if used for too long or on people with certain medical conditions. The study said police should treat Tasers “with the same level of respect as a firearm.”

Garland said the “five-second window” created by a Taser shock creates an expectation that the officer will have time to take the suspect in custody.

“If you give someone a five-second ride, if you do that more than three times you’re going to have to justify why you didn’t do other things to keep that person on the ground,” Garland said.

Asked if there was a more effective way than a Taser to avoid the need for lethal force, Elder said “officers respond to hundreds of different and individual situations, presenting dozens of unique and situational variables.”

For Burnsville Police Chief Eric Gieseke, anything short of a gun-wielding suspect is an opportunity to first consider alternative means of resolving the confrontation.

“We train them that if you confront someone with a gun, you have to meet them with the same force,” Gieseke said. “(But) firearms are a last resort for us; if there’s anything in between there to gain control, we consider that a success.”

Tasers may not be a perfect option, said Garland, the defense instructor, who said thick winter clothing may make it difficult for the device’s prongs to strike skin. But given the current challenges in police-community relations, Garland said Tasers and other alternatives, like beanbag guns or devices that shoot nets, will warrant a closer look.

“Before if it was not a priority,” he said, “now I think it will be.”

©2016 Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (L) and interim Chicago Police Superintendent John Escalante hold a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, United States, December 7, 2015.   REUTERS/Jim Young  


Protesters Call For Chicago Mayor To Step Down

By Dawn Rhodes, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Long before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tackled police accountability in an unusual speech before the City Council on Wednesday, demonstrators made it clear there was nothing the embattled mayor could say to calm the situation.

There was no mea culpa great enough, no promises convincing enough to satisfy hundreds of protesters who converged downtown in a vociferous rebuke of how he has handled issues of police misconduct, brought to the forefront in recent weeks by the controversy over Laquan McDonald’s shooting death in 2014.

They want Emanuel gone.

“This is not a black problem, this is a democracy problem. We don’t want your apology, we want your resignation!” one woman yelled.

Angelina Espindola, who lives in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood, dismissed the emotions the mayor displayed during his speech, calling them “crocodile tears.” She said she wanted to add her voice to the protests in part because she has a son who is Latino and fears for his safety when he gets older.

“I’m just really tired of turning on the news and seeing another innocent victim shot,” said Espindola, 28. “I’m tired of mothers crying. ‘Sorry’ isn’t going to bring those kids back. All (Emanuel) is doing is talking. Now he’s doing it because everyone’s paying attention.”

Protesters streamed through downtown, stopping briefly in front of City Hall, the Chicago Board of Trade and at Congress Parkway near Interstate 290, snarling traffic and causing some bus delays.

A line of police officers met the protesters at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street but then allowed the group to march down the Magnificent Mile. They stopped at Wacker Drive for a moment of silence for victims of police violence and to insist that demonstrators remain peaceful.

“This is what Martin Luther King (Jr.) fought for. This is what Malcolm X fought for, 152 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and we are still not free,” an organizer told the group as they held a brief sit-in at Wacker.

The protesters had barely begun marching down Dearborn Street when Lamon Reccord, a young demonstrator noted in part for staring down police officers tasked with supervising marches, began running down the street with several officers chasing him. The officers detained him briefly, pushing their way through a crowd of people who blocked their path as they tried to put Reccord into a police van. It was not clear what touched off the incident, but organizer Rousemary Vega said a man not part of the demonstration began taunting Reccord.

“It just shows that if you’re a black man in the city of Chicago, you’re found guilty before you go to a judge,” Vega said, crying. “Of course he ran away. There’s fear in our youth. They don’t trust the cops.”

The group surrounded the police unit parked on Dearborn and refused to move. After about 15 minutes, Reccord was released, and the group began marching through the Loop.

“Rahm, resign!” they chanted. “What did Rahm know, and when did he know it?”

Within minutes of the mayor finishing his 45-minute speech — at times going off script and appearing to choke up with emotion — dozens began demonstrating outside council chambers. Even as Emanuel pledged to give citizens opportunities to more freely voice their concerns and worries, his administration confirmed spectators had to be on a list to be allowed inside to hear the speech.

“Sixteen shots and a cover-up!” they chanted, the common rallying cry evoking the number of times McDonald was shot.

After many more viewed coverage of the speech on TV and online, the biting responses came swiftly.

“This speech probably made things worse for him with every constituency except for his lap dog City Council,” tweeted Mariame Kaba, founder and director of Project NIA, which works to end youth incarceration.

Claire Holohan, who recently moved to the Uptown neighborhood from St. Louis and is white, said that while she has not experienced negative police treatment, she wanted to support those who had.

“How can you not do something? How can you not say something?” she said. “You see it every day. You hear about it every day.”

Yael Hoffman, a social worker from Hyde Park, said she was moved by Emanuel’s speech but said the mayor’s contrition came too late.

“There has to be a symbol of change and there has to be a reality of change. (Garry) McCarthy is not enough,” said Hoffman, 44, noting the ousting of the police superintendent. “Laquan McDonald represented everything that’s wrong: He was a foster child, abused, had no future, then he was killed by the cops. The city should have taken care of him, and they did quite the opposite.”

While the ire seemed mostly directed at Emanuel, demonstrators similarly are demanding the resignation of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Many citizens and political leaders have taken aim at how Alvarez’s office has prosecuted police-involved shootings. She came under scrutiny last spring after a Cook County judge acquitted Detective Dante Servin in the fatal shooting of Rekia Boyd in 2012. The judge intimated in his ruling that prosecutors should have charged Servin with murder, not manslaughter.

Criticism of Alvarez grew when she formally charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with McDonald’s killing, but did so the same day the city released the McDonald video.

Jill Johnson, of Avondale, said she joined the protest because of her children.

“I don’t want my kids to grow up in an unjust Chicago,” said Johnson, 35. “The city’s been corrupt and it’s filled with racism, but people are like it’s business as usual. I think sometimes you have to throw your body in the way of business as usual. Rahm said some good things today but he’s going to sweep it under the rug unless we keep the pressure up.”

Photo: Activist groups take over RandolphStreet as a protest, Justice for Laquan, marches as the city council meets, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015 in Chicago. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)