Resisting calls to resign from office, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday unveiled a series of changes to lethal force policies for city police – including plans to double the number tasers for officers– amid public unrest over a rash of fatal shootings involving police.
During a press conference on Wednesday, the embattled mayor outlined new police training protocols and policies designed to deescalate tensions between officers and the community and emphasize the use of non-lethal force in light of the department’s spotted record in handling conflict.
“Just because you’re trained that you can use force, doesn’t mean you should,” Emanuel said on Wednesday. “Helping officers have that distinction and the training that goes with it is essential.”
Emanuel was forced to to cut short his family’s vacation to Cuba this week and return home to Chicago to oversee the fallout from yet another police-involved shooting that took place over the weekend. Two people were fatally shot by a police officer – a 19-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman – in what began as a domestic disturbance call on Saturday.
Wednesday’s press conference was Emanuel’s first public appearance since returning from his trip abroad. The victim’s family has already filed a wrongful death suit against the city, and calls have grown for the police department to expand its training protocols in order to avoid more casualties.
Moving forward, police officers involved in shootings will automatically be assigned to desk duty for 30 days as officials assess their fitness for duty, Emanuel said during the press conference. Previously, an officer’s mandatory time out of the field was 72 hours.
“We want to ensure that our officers are not just operating in either first gear or fifth gear, but to recognize the degrees in-between so they can respond appropriately to each individual situation where force can be the last option, not the first choice,” Emanuel said.
Confidence in Emanuel’s leadership was shaken upon the release of dashcam video that showed a police officer firing the 16 shots that killed Laquan McDonald, an African-American teen. The officer who pulled the trigger, 37-year-old Jason Van Dyke, pleaded “not guilty” to six counts of first-degree murder.
But the calls for accountability do not stop with Van Dyke.
The city’s handling of the investigation fueled allegations of a cover-up, a dynamic made worse after city officials repeatedly refused to release the dashcam video capturing McDonald’s October 2014 fatal shooting. The footage was made public only after a state judge ordered for its release in late November – months after Emanuel secured his re-election in the spring.
In the fallout since the video’s release, Emanuel’s response has wavered between two poles. He fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, when only days earlier, he had publicly affirmed his support of the chief. Emanuel eventually welcomed a federal investigation into McDonald’s death after he initially scoffed at calls for the Justice Department’s involvement.
On Wednesday, Emanuel acknowledged the systemic issues that will likely be the central focus of the DOJ’s investigation. Calling the protocol changes the first meaningful steps toward reform, the mayor cautioned for patience in restoring the community’s trust in law enforcement.
“As we go forward, all of us will accept nothing less than complete and total reform of both the system and policing culture here in the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said. “Obviously we have a lot of work to do and changing the police culture will not and cannot be done overnight.”