Calls for Police Reform, Training Intensify After Fatal Shootings

After two more fatal shootings by the Chicago Police Department over the weekend – including that of Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old mother of five – calls for urgent police reform and better training of officers have grown louder. 

Jones was killed Saturday along with 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier as officers responded to reports of a domestic disturbance. LeGrier was said to be carrying a metal baseball bat and acting in a “combative” manner.

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Following the shooting, the CPD issued a statement that said in part: “The 55-year-old female victim was accidentally struck and tragically killed. The department extends its deepest condolences to the victim’s family and friends.”

The statement went on to say the incident was being investigated by the Independent Police Review Authority and announced a change in policy:

“The officer(s) involved will be placed on routine administrative duties for a period of 30 days. This new policy which was implemented by Superintendent Escalante, will ensure separation from field duties while training and fitness for duty requirements can be conducted. Going forward, this will be standard protocol following all officer-involved shootings.”

What, if anything, could police have done differently to de-escalate the situation, and is more training the answer? We discuss those issues and more are former Chicago Police Officer Brian Warner, an 18-year veteran of the force and chairman of the Chicago Police Survivors group; and the Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.

Below, highlights from our conversation:

Brian Warner: We don't know the details of this situation, but it's only a baseball bat if you're playing baseball with it. If you walk into a dark hallway, and there's a domestic call–we don't know what transpired, but allegedly this person attacks him with a baseball bat and he begins to fire to protect himself, which would be a natural recourse if anybody had a weapon and somebody had a gun–I mean, somebody had a baseball bat–you would fire.

Eddie Arruza: Again, we don't know exact details of this incident. Whether the young man was set to attack one of the officers with a bat, how far away they were from each other. But when it comes to lethal force, where is the dividing line between holding back and firing the weapon?

Warner: Like I said, based on the information we know, it's only a baseball bat if he's using it for baseball. If he's swinging at your head, it's a lethal weapon.

Arruza: So if he's actually physically close to the officer, ready to swing the bat, that would be the point where he could fire his weapon.

Warner: Correct. If he strikes an officer, knocking an officer's gun out of his hand and gets control of that gun, or striking the officer in the head and knocking him unconscious and taking his gun, you have a whole different situation.

Rev. Marshall Hatch: That doesn't seem to have anything to do with what we're talking about. Bettie Jones did not have a baseball bat.

Warner: Hers is certainly a tragic situation. But it was caused by somebody acting illegally, somebody off their meds–by his own mother's admission, he wasn't taking his medication.

Hatch [to Arruza]: I think what you were asking, was at what point does a police officer decide to use lethal force. In this case, as the facts are lining up, we don't have any indication that anybody swung a baseball bat at anybody before the police started shooting.

Arruza: We can't really get into the details here because we don't know the details. But the fact is that there was at least one innocent victim here, and that is Bettie Jones.

Watch the video to hear our full discussion.

Officials respond

On Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement calling on the police department and the Independent Police Review Authority to immediately review the Crisis Intervention Team training that provides guidance on how officers handle calls for service that involve mental health crises.

“There are serious questions about yesterday’s shootings that must be answered in full by the Independent Police Review Authority’s investigation. While their investigation is underway, we must also make real changes within our police department today and it is clear changes are needed to how officers respond to mental health crises.

“This afternoon I directed the new Acting Chief Administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority and the Interim Superintendent of Police to meet with each other as soon as possible to review the Crisis Intervention Team training, around how officers respond to mental health crisis calls. I have asked that they determine the deficiencies in the current training, and determine what steps can be taken immediately to address them.

“The changes we have made in recent weeks are just a beginning – not an end. We will continue to ask tough questions of the police department, of the investigative agencies, and of ourselves, to drive the reforms the people of Chicago deserve and expect.”

Chicago Police Interim Superintendent John Escalante agreed with Emanuel, saying in a statement: 

“I strongly support the Mayor's call for a full evaluation of the effectiveness of the current crisis intervention training and de-escalation policies. I am looking forward to bringing my team to the table with IPRA early this week for a critical evaluation of our policies and procedures so we can make any changes needed to ensure we follow the highest professional standards and bring residents the comfort and safety they deserve.”

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