Mayor announces changes in police response, more Tasers

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and interim police superintendent John Escalante have announced changes in how officers respond to incidents and the use of physical and lethal force as well as an increase in the number of officers trained and equipped with Tasers.

The policy changes center around de-escalation tactics that are designed to reduce the intensity of a conflict.

Emanuel noted that there have been a number of incidents around the country recently in which officers have shot and killed people who were not armed with guns. He said that in some cases there were missed opportunities to reduce tension or to call in specially trained teams before the shootings occurred.

In addition, by June 1 every officer responding to calls for service will be equipped with a Taser and trained to use it, according to the mayor’s office. Emanuel said that the department will add 700 Tasers, increasing the number available to 1,481.

Officers will determine if they need to take action immediately or if the situation can be slowed down and made safer, if the tension can be de-escalated by talking to the offender and if they need to request the assistance of specialized units.

The department will begin training on the new force mitigation policy with a presentation to command staff, a video for all officers and roll call training. Training on improving de-escalation tactics and strategies for dealing with mentally ill people, homeless people and other challenging situations will also be provided, according to the department.

Emanuel said he also has directed the police department to work with the Independent Police Review Authority on changes that are designed to strengthen the work of the department and increase transparency. Any officers involved in shootings will be separated from field duties for 30 days while training and fitness for duty requirements can be conducted. The officers involved will be placed on routine administrative duties for 30 days.

The police department also is expanding the use of body-worn cameras to six police districts. Uniformed officers and supervisors on all three watches wear the cameras, which will be able to record up to 72 hours on a single charge. The cameras will be self-contained audio and video recording devices.

Escalante also announced that now 50 percent of police chiefs and deputy chiefs are African American and more women are serving in executive leadership roles.

Emanuel also directed the formation of the Task Force on Police Accountability, which will recommend reforms that are designed to improve independent oversight of police misconduct, ensure officers with repeated complaints are identified and evaluated, and establish practices for release of videos of police-involved incidents. The task force will make recommendations will be presented to the mayor and the City Council by March 31.

"These policy changes are part of our ongoing effort to completely reform the system and policing culture in Chicago to ensure the safety of every resident and restore the trust that is necessary for our police officers to do their jobs safely and effectively," Emanuel said. "Our police officers operate in dangerous and difficult circumstances every day. It is essential that they have the right guidance, training, and tactics to ensure the safety of our residents and themselves."

"These enhancements will ultimately equip Chicago police officers with the necessary tools and training to gain control of fast-changing situations and help," Escalante said. "In the end, we must use every resource at our disposal to uphold our goal of ultimately resolving incidents with the highest possible regard for the preservation of human life and the safety of all persons involved."