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Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling vowed Tuesday to rid the Chicago Police Department of officers with ties to hate groups and far-right extremist organizations after “stringent” and “thorough” investigations.
Snelling’s remarks kicked off the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations Committee’s examination of CPD’s nearly $2 billion 2024 budget. The remarks came in direct response to a series of stories by the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ-FM revealing that the names of nine Chicago Police Department members appeared in leaked rosters for the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist group.
“Once those investigations have been completed, and due process is served, and we find that we have members amongst our ranks that are members of hate groups, we will do everything that we can to remove those members from our ranks,” Snelling said. “It serves the Chicago Police Department in no way, in no way good, to have members amongst our department who are members of hate groups. And we will not tolerate it.”
Pressed by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Bureau of Internal Affairs Chief Yolanda Talley said those probes would take approximately six months.
“This to me is low-hanging fruit,” Dowell said. “Let’s get them out.”
“There is no place” in CPD for officers with ties to the Oath Keepers, said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward).
“We need to rebuild trust,” O’Shea said.
In response to Dowell, Talley said recent media reports had overstated the number of Chicago Police officers with ties to the Oath Keepers. In all, WBEZ and the Sun-Times reported that 27 current and former members of the CPD had ties to the Oath Keepers.
“It is scary” to know that Chicago Police Department members belong to these groups, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) said.
Talley also told Dowell that until the recent series of stories, CPD brass had no evidence indicating that any officers had ties to the Oath Keepers.
But that is not true, according to WBEZ and the Sun-Times, which obtained a copy of a letter sent to police leaders in August 2022 by the Anti-Defamation League that identified eight Chicago cops with ties to the Oath Keepers. Reporters’ questions about that letter prompted a new inquiry into those officers, according to the report.
It is not clear that the ongoing probe will result in any of the officers being terminated or punished. For a full year, City Council members, civil rights groups and police reform advocates have been enraged and baffled by what they see as the department’s halting response to evidence of extremism in its ranks.
In October 2022, police brass rejected a recommendation from Inspector General Deborah Witzburg to terminate an officer who lied about his ties to the far-right Proud Boys extremist group. Instead, that officer served a 120-day suspension.
During an October hearing before the City Council’s Budget Committee, Talley told the Chicago City Council the probe of the officer’s conduct and statements was 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.
In January, police brass rejected a recommendation from Inspector General Deborah Witzburg to terminate an officer who admitted belonging to the Oath Keepers. That officer remains on active duty with the CPD and earns nearly $109,000 annually, according to a city database.
During that probe, the Chicago Police Department officer “admitted to being a former member of the Oath Keepers, having joined in 2010 or 2011 and having been a member for three to four years,” according to the inspector general’s report. Despite that, department officials closed the probe finding that the allegation was “not sustained” even though the officer admitted belonging to an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s best-known civil rights organizations, considers to be a “far-right anti-government group.”
It is unclear what results a new probe of the officers tied to the Oath Keepers could produce, given the unwillingness of police brass to follow the inspector general’s recommendation in that case and the case of the officer who lied about his ties to the Proud Boys.
Members of both groups participated in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, and leaders of both groups have been convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Membership in extremist organizations like Oath Keepers and Proud Boys constitutes a violation of CPD policy, Witzburg said.
The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which has the power to set policy for the Chicago Police Department, is crafting a policy that would expand the types of “criminal” organizations that officers are prohibited from belonging to or associating with, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has called on Chicago officials to “adopt clear and unambiguous policies and procedures prohibiting city employees from actively associating with hate and extremist groups.”