Chicago mayor announces police reforms after fatal shooting

Protesters rally outside the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Dec 29, 2015.
Protesters rally outside the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Dec 29, 2015.PHOTOS: AFP

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - Chicago police will get new equipment and training to help them defuse tense situations and use the least amount of lethal force necessary, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Wednesday, seeking to soothe tensions in the city after weeks of protests over fatal police shootings.

The number of Tasers, or electric stun guns that are generally not lethal, for the police department will be doubled to 1,400 so that every patrol unit that goes out at night has one, Emanuel said at a news conference.

“Just because you are trained that you can use force, doesn’t mean you should,” Emanuel said at the news conference, flanked by top officials including interim Police Superintendent John Escalante.

Emanuel ended his Cuba vacation early this week to deal with fallout from the police shooting to death a 55-year-old mother and a 19-year-old college student, whom relatives said had suffered from mental issues.

The Chicago Police Department, already the subject of a federal civil rights investigation over its use of deadly force and other issues, has admitted the woman’s death was an accident.

The latest shootings came after protesters had called for Emanuel’s resignation after a video was released last month showing Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, shooting Laquan McDonald, 17, in 2014.

Van Dyke (leaving court below) has pleaded not guilty to murder.

That, and other shootings of black men by police officers over the past 18 months, have led to protests across the country and the issue has fuelled a civil rights movement under the name Black Lives Matter.

Chicago police shoot more than 50 people a year, 74 per cent of them black, with an average of 17 fatal shootings a year between 2007 and 2014, according to the Independent Police Review Authority, which examines complaints about the Chicago police and all its uses of force. The number is high compared with other US police forces.

Escalante said the goal was to change the police culture, and train police to act in a less aggressive and confrontational way.

“The goal is to change the way officers think when they approach a critical incident by establishing time and distance to allow for more prudent thinking and physical space to promote a safer environment,” he said.

“We expect that every police officer develops skills and abilities that allow them to help dissolve confrontations by the using the least amount of physical or lethal force necessary,” he said.

Most US police receive little or no training on how best to de-escalate crisis situations involving the mentally ill or people under the effect of drugs or alcohol, despite the growing frequency of such encounters and the fatal results in a number of recent cases.

The Chicago police department, with some 12,000 officers, currently has 700 Tasers, which fire dart-like electrodes that incapacitate but are generally non-lethal.

None of the eight police officers at the scene of McDonald’s shooting had a Taser, though they had asked for a unit equipped with a Taser to come to the scene.

The ensuing turmoil led Emanuel to fire the police superintendent and create a task force to review police accountability.

While Emanuel was on vacation, Bettie Jones, 55, and Quintonio LeGrier, 19, were killed on Dec 26 by an officer responding to a call that LeGrier was threatening his father with a baseball bat.