A Chicago police officer who lied about his ties to the far-right Proud Boys extremist group, according to a probe by the city’s watchdog, is back on the city’s payroll, according to the city’s online database.
Officer Robert Bakker returned to full duty Wednesday, two weeks after members of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee demanded that Chicago Police Department officials do more to weed out extremists from the department’s ranks.
The presence of an officer with ties to a far-right extremist group that have clashed with the United States government will make it impossible for Chicagoans to trust the Chicago Police Department, some members of the City Council said Feb. 22.
Bakker earns $97,974 annually, according to the city’s database. Representatives for the Chicago Police Department said Bakker was undergoing a “reinstatement process” but did not answer questions about what part of the city he would be assigned to patrol.
A spokesperson for Mayor Lori Lightfoot referred questions to the city’s Law Department. A Law Department spokesperson said that department was not involved in the matter. Efforts to reach Bakker for comment were not immediately successful.
Leaders of Jewish and LGBTQ groups in Chicago told WTTW News that the presence of someone with ties to the Proud Boys on the Chicago Police Department poses a threat to their communities.
"So long as there are cops patrolling the streets who have been known to fraternize and sympathize with anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups, LGBTQ+ people in Chicago will never be able to fully trust CPD," said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization.
Inspector General Deborah Witzburg urged Chicago Police Supt. David Brown to terminate Bakker for making a “a false statement” during the investigation when asked if he attended a Proud Boy sponsored barbecue. He also made “a contradicting statement” during a recorded interview about his participation in a group chat with members of the Proud Boys, according to a report released by Witzburg.
Bakker, who also failed to notify department officials that he was interviewed by the FBI as part of a probe into the activities of the Proud Boys, served a 120-day suspension.
The Proud Boys have been labeled by the FBI as an antisemitic white supremacy organization, Witzburg said. In addition, the Proud Boys have been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s best-known civil rights organizations.
Lightfoot and Brown have repeatedly said they have “zero tolerance” for police officers who are members of hate groups or associate with members of hate groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has criticized Lightfoot, Brown and Bureau of Internal Affairs Chief Yolanda Talley for mishandling the probe into Bakker and its aftermath by making “confusing and contradictory statements.”
During an October hearing before the City Council’s Budget Committee, 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.
That confusion continued during the Feb. 22 hearing, with Deputy Chief Traci Walker erroneously telling the committee there was “no evidence” that Bakker made a false statement to investigators, despite the fact that the inspector general’s report documented exactly that. In response, Witzburg read her office’s report out loud.
Officers who lie can be terminated under departmental policy.
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.
Chicago Police Department leaders said they working to craft a new policy that would expand the types of “criminal” organizations that officers are prohibited from belonging to or associating with, including those that are the “antithesis of the Chicago Police Department.”
A spokesperson for the Police Department declined to release the current version of that proposed policy because it is being “drafted in collaboration with the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability,” the city’s new police oversight board.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has called on Chicago officials to a “adopt clear and unambiguous policies and procedures prohibiting city employees from actively associating with hate and extremist groups.”
In addition, a new policy governing how officers use social media is under review by the office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and the team charged by U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer with implementing the federal court order requiring the Chicago Police Department stop violating the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.
A current draft of that policy would ban officers from “posting, sharing, ‘liking,’ ‘following,’ or otherwise distributing or re-distributing content with the intent to promote, support or otherwise endorse a criminal organization or its activities.”
That would apply to both the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers organizations, officials said.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]