Will Tasers be the solution to ending force used by police officers? Chicago Mayor Emanuel seems to think so.

Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, announced a new policy to be implemented consisting of providing more accessible Tasers to police officers and better training of police officers when dealing with confrontational situations with suspects.

Photo provided by The Chicago Reader.

During the news conference on December 30, 2015, Mayor Emanuel announced a new policy providing for Tasers and training for police officers, and assured that “Every police officer will be trained and armed with a Taser by June 2016.”  The implementation includes doubling the number of Tasers used by officers from 700 to 1,400.

Mayor Emanuel believes that such tactics will help to improve the communication between officers and individuals to make encounters less confrontational, while still ensuring the safety of the police officers and well as that of the community.  He also mentioned during the news conference that he wants to work on “rebuild[ing] the trust where it has been lost” in the community of Chicago between the citizens and their police force.

“We’re thinking the police are going to service us, take [LeGrier] to the hospital.  They took his life.”

The Chicago Police Department and the ways in which they choose to implement certain policies within their department has been heavily criticized in recent years.  For the past several years, critics have labeled the Chicago Police Department culture as one of, “shoot first and ask questions later.”  After another fatal police shooting, killing two African-American individuals, the day after Christmas, Mayor Emanuel has been under a lot of heat.

On December 26, 2015, Chicago police responded to a domestic disturbance from the father of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier.  Family members told The Chicago Tribune,  that LeGrier was holding a baseball bat and was acting “agitated.”  LeGrier’s father became worried of his son’s behavior and called the police.

In a statement issued by The Chicago Police Department, the shootings happened after “responding officers ‘were confronted by a combative subject…’”  A source told the Chicago Tribune that LeGrier was swinging a baseball bat at officers and threatening his own father before he was shot.

LeGrier’s family stated that the college student was shot seven times.  The Chicago Police Department has acknowledged that 55-year-old Bettie Jones was shot by accident in the midst of responding the LeGrier incident.  Additionally, LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, told the Tribune, “We’re thinking the police are going to service us, take him to the hospital.  They took his life.”

Interim Police Superintendent, John Escalante, believes that the availability of Tasers will minimize the use of force by officers . . .

This tragic incident is just one of the latest criticisms Mayor Emanuel has been forced to deal with in the use of force by police officers and how the city handles investigations surrounding police shootings.  During the news conferences, Mayor Emanuel stated, “There is a difference between whether someone can use a gun and when they should use a gun. “ He urged that because of this, they must resort to training for police officers to attempt to avoid similar situations as what happened in the LeGrier incident, and what happened to Ms. Jones.

Interim Police Superintendent, John Escalante, believes that the availability of Tasers will minimize the use of force by officers and as a result making it a last resort when handling suspects.  The announcement of using Tasers and implementing training courses came after an early December announcement, where Mayor Emanuel announced the new “police accountability task force.”  The new task force will review the accountability system within the Chicago Police Department, and review the current training procedures and oversight procedures for its officers within the Chicago Police Department.

Many critics believe that the Mayor’s attempts are not sincere, in that these attempts came after a court order was issued to The Chicago Police Department in November 2015, ordering them to release a dash-cam video.  The video shows Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke firing sixteen rounds into Lequan McDonald, killing McDonald.  This distrust of the police department is what Mayor Emanuel states he wishes to remedy by implementing this new policy.

It appears that Mayor Emanuel’s administration battled to keep the video out of the public view.  

The tragic incident surrounding the video took place in October 2014.  Police statements from the incident, stated that Lequan McDonald, and African-American, 17-year-old, refused to follow instructions given to him by the police and was carrying a knife.  In the video Officer Van Dyke is seen shooting at McDonald sixteen times, shortly after exiting his patrol car.

According to the Associated Press, an autopsy report later showed that McDonald had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system.  The drug could have been one of the numerous reasons as to why McDonald “refused” to follow police instructions.

Many agree that the circumstances surround the McDonald incident should not have resulted in his death.  Witnesses from the scene stated that, “it seemed that McDonald was focused on getting away from the police, rather than confronting them.”  Since the release of the video Officer Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, if convicted he could face up to twenty years to life in prison.

It appears that Mayor Emanuel’s administration battled to keep the video out of the public view.  After the video was released to the public, many questions surfaced surrounding the Mayor’s motive in wanting to keep the video concealed.

Before the release of the video many activists attempted to meet with the Mayor to discuss police and community relations.  Many of those attempts had been unsuccessful.  However, activists finally got their opportunity to meet with the Mayor shortly after the video was released.

Mayor Emanuel has faith that . . . his goal is to “ensure that everyone gets home safely.”

Jedidiah Brown, the founder of the Young Leaders Alliance, stated that Mayor Emanuel’s urge to meet with the community activists “was the right move, but it was horrible timing.”  “There’s always focus on how black people perform and respond to being abused and exploited and oppressed politically, economically and socially.  There’s very little focus and investment in addressing the root causes of everything that precedes this,” Timothy Bradford, member of Black Youth Project 100, stated in an interview with Chicago Tribune.

The Mayor’s actions leading up to his announcement at the December 30th news conference dealing with more Tasers and better training, are causing people to be skeptical about all the “new tactics” the Mayor is currently implementing.  The question to be asked concerning these new implications is whether the new change will help in decreasing the number of police shooting fatalities.  Mayor Emanuel has faith that it will; his goal is to “ensure that everyone gets home safely.”

In addition to doubling the number of Tasers assessable to police officers and providing more training, other changes include: (1) a minimum of 30-day desk assignment for officers involved in shootings, opposed to the pervious 3-day requirement, (2) using extra time and resources in the psychological evaluation of the police officer after the incidents, and (3) making efforts for a more thorough investigation stemming from police shootings.

Mayor Emanuel believes that with the right policies, procedures, and practices, the city can “change our officers’ perspectives” and ensure the safety of officers and of others.  But can you really change the “perspectives” of police officers through training and more accessibility to Tasers?  Critics, community leaders, and recent statistics beg to differ.

Chicago city data and experts state that reducing the violent episodes between police officers and civilians will require additional measures than what the Mayor is currently proposing.

The Mayor’s proposals are expansions of techniques, resources, and equipment that have always been available to officers—none which have prevented controversial police killings in the city.  These “de-escalation” tactics are not new in nature.  Chicago city data and experts state that reducing the violent episodes between police officers and civilians will require additional measures than what the Mayor is currently proposing.

According to the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, incidents involving Tasers jumped from about 200 in 2009 to 900 the following year.  Despite the rise in Taser usage by police officers, the number of shootings remained the same.

While the number of shootings remained the same, the number logged incidents concerning Tasers went up. The rise in the availability of Tasers have lead to more allegations stated that police shocked civilians without proper justification.  In addition, the training courses alone will not help, courses will have to have effective supervision and there needs to be accountability for officers who violate the rules and not just a slap on the wrist.

During the news conference, Mayor Emanuel did acknowledge that these new polices alone will not end the challenge that the City of Chicago faces, but that it is “the beginning of the solution that Chicago has faced for decades.”  Activists are not being swayed by Mayor Emanuel’s attempts as they still continue to call for the Mayor’s resignation.

Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, told Chicago Tribune, “Tasers alone would not solve the longstanding problems between police officers and Latino and African-American residents.  There’s a culture in the police department, I think, and in our larger society that black and brown lives don’t matter in the same way the lives of white people matter.”

Although the new policy to increase the availability of Tasers to police officers is to help reduce incidents in which police officers use their guns, this could lead to other problems, causing the policy to potentially backfire. A few instances are those dealing with the improper use of Tasers by police officers and increasing the harm of police officers.

With the new policy in place, the Chicago Police Department could see a rise in lawsuits coming their way.

There have been several lawsuits in recent years that have concerned individuals suing police officers or the police department for improper use of a Taser. Although a Taser is not the same as a gun, to some, it is still seen as a weapon. With the new policy in place, the Chicago Police Department could see a rise in lawsuits coming their way.

Along with the potential rise in lawsuits by civilians, some fear that the incentive to implement more Tasers could cause risk to police officers. In 2014, several police officers from the Seattle Police Department filed a lawsuit alleging “that their department’s policy on de-escalation put their own lives at risk.” The lawsuit was later dismissed.  Mayor Emanuel’s incentive behind the new policy is one to provide safety on both sides, but there are rising problems, in which the opposite effect can happen.

Hopefully with the new polices and Mayor Emanuel’s attempts to bring better communication between police officers and Chicago residents, the City of Chicago will start to see a change for the better within their community, for both police officers and their citizens.

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About Amaka Madu, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus (18 Articles)
Amaka Madu is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Political Science. Following her first year of law school, Amaka interned at the North Carolina Court of Appeals with Honorable Judge Tyson and during the second half of her summer, she participated in the Baylor Academy of the Advocate study abroad program in St. Andrews, Scotland. Amaka also currently serves as Secretary for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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