Allowing a Chicago police officer who lied about his ties to the far-right Proud Boys extremist group to return to the department will “contribute to the erosion of trust between the public and law enforcement authorities,” according to a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot released Thursday by one of the nation’s best-known civil rights organizations.
Officer Robert Bakker is currently serving a 120-day suspension, which he is expected to complete in the coming weeks. A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department declined to comment on Bakker’s case in response to a request from WTTW News. However, all officers returning from suspensions must be reinstated before returning to full duty, according to department policy.
A probe by the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs determined Bakker made a “a false statement” during the investigation when asked if he attended a Proud Boy sponsored barbecue and made a “a contradicting statement” during a recorded interview about his participation in a group chat with members of the Proud Boys, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General that urged the officer be terminated.
Bakker was not named by the inspector general, but has been identified by other city officials to WTTW News.
Bakker “should have been fired for his active participation in extremist activities – and then lying about it,” according to the letter to Lightfoot and Chicago police Supt. David Brown from Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which seeks to combat extremism across the United States.
The 120-day suspension Bakker is now serving is “wholly inadequate,” Tischauser wrote.
Chicago should “adopt clear and unambiguous policies and procedures prohibiting city employees from actively associating with hate and extremist groups,” Tischauser wrote. “Any individual who is tasked with protecting the public cannot be trusted to do so equitably when they associate with an openly racist, bigoted and misogynistic organization.”
Bakker earns approximately $96,000 annually as an officer, according to city records. Brown has told reporters investigators “were not able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that this officer was a member of, or was associated with, the Proud Boys, or any other hate group.”
The Proud Boys are “one of the most active and violent organizations now operating in the U.S. hate movement,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Allowing Bakker to retain his role can create an environment of impunity for other officers who may associate with violent groups and contribute to the erosion of trust between the public and law enforcement authorities,” Tischauser wrote.
Lightfoot, Brown and Bureau of Internal Affairs Chief Yolanda Talley mishandled the probe into Bakker and its aftermath by making “confusing and contradictory statements,” Tischauser wrote.
During an October hearing, Talley erroneously told the Chicago City Council the probe of Bakker’s conduct and statements were hampered by the fact that the group was not designated a hate group by the FBI.
The FBI does not identify domestic groups as hate or extremist groups, according to an agency spokesperson.
The Proud Boys have been labeled by the FBI as an antisemitic white supremacy organization, according to the third quarterly report by Inspector General Deborah Witzburg released on Oct. 14 that documented the culmination of the probe into the officer and his ties to the Proud Boys.
Even as Lightfoot has said “there is no place in our police department — or any other city department, for that matter — for white supremacists or other extremist ideology,” she has defended Brown’s decision to allow an officer with links to an extremist group to remain a member of the Chicago Police Department.
“We urge you to reconsider the mild discipline of temporary suspension for Officer Bakker and we urge city officials to adopt prohibitions against active participation in white supremacist or extremist activities that are both clear and understandable and appropriately protective of First Amendment speech rights,” Tischauser wrote.
Several current and former members of the Proud Boys have been charged with seditious conspiracy for what federal prosecutors say was a coordinated attack on the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
A former leader of the group pleaded guilty Oct. 6 and agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation.