By Christopher Hacker and Tara Molina
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Police officers pointed their guns at people 246 times during the month of November and the first day of December 2019, according to new data obtained by CBS 2.
The data were released as part of an order called a consent decree, in which a federal court stepped in to oversee reforms at the Chicago Police Department (CPD). The consent decree went into effect earlier this year; November was the first month CPD was required to collect data on times officers point their weapons at people under the agreement.
Under the rules, the CPD must notify the Office of Emergency Management and Communication whenever an officer points a gun at someone.
“People were having guns pointed at them by police officers all the time, and there was no record,” said Karen Sheely, director of the Police Practices Project for the American Civil Liberties Union. “At least now, we have some sense of how often it’s happening.”
Most of the incidents occurred on the city’s South and West sides — places predominantly populated by people of color, and which see the highest levels of gun violence, according to city data.
In Chicago’s Harrison (11th) police district, the area with the most reported incidents, CPD officers pointed guns at people 23 times in November, data analysis by CBS 2 shows. The 11th district includes Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood, as well as parts of East Garfield Park and Humboldt Park.
In the Englewood (7th) police district, which covers the Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods, officers pointed guns at people 22 times.
This data doesn’t show the complete picture of every time an officer uses their weapon, however. Officers only have to report when they point their weapons at someone, not when they remove a gun from its holster.
There are other exceptions too. Officers with SWAT teams don’t have to report when they point guns during SWAT incidents. Neither do officers who are officially assigned to federal task forces — although some officers who work in conjunction with federal task forces still do.
The data only shows one month’s worth of incidents, so it’s impossible to say how November compares to previous months. But the data CBS 2 obtained provides a window into what many argue is a serious use of force: pointing a firearm at someone.
The ACLU, one of the organizations that fought for this transparency, called its release important.
“It’s an important event that should be evaluated,” Sheely said. “It’s the equivalent of a use of force, and the department should be able to explain why it happened each time it happened.”
Some, namely Chicago’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), fought to keep the policy from being enacted. In July, the FOP asked the federal judge overseeing the consent decree to delay implementation of the policy that required officers to document gun pointing incidents. They filed a motion which argued it might cause officers to hesitate in life-threatening situations.
But attorneys in favor of the policy filed a motion of their own, arguing “ungoverned pointing of firearms by officers is directly linked to civilian injuries and deaths.” Unless required to document each time they point their weapons, they said, officers couldn’t be held accountable.
The attorneys also cited several cases in which officers pointed guns at children as evidence the policy would improve accountability. Referring to three cases first reported by CBS 2 in which officers mistakenly raided the homes of innocent people, the lawyers argued the cases demonstrate”the violence inherent in firearm pointing,” as well as the regularity with which officers point their weapons at people.
CBS 2 Investigators talked with Illinois State Attorney General Kwame Raoul about police firearm pointing incidents last month.
“These instances should be audited by the department, so that they can inform their practice and their policies,” Raoul said.
And the CPD said it’s doing just that:
”No decision is as critical for a Chicago Police Officer than when they must use force or directly point their firearm at an individual for the safety of themselves and others. The Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) use of force policy prioritizes the sanctity of life and de-escalation whenever possible. Officer safety, as well as the safety of all Chicago residents, was paramount when the firearm pointing incident policy was negotiated as part of the City’s consent decree. In accordance with the policy, CPD is reviewing each firearm pointing incident to ensure Department’s protocols were followed and any tactical, equipment or training concerns are addressed.”
The CPD also noted that there is no recognized best practice on a national scale for notification and documentation of an officer pointing a gun.