If one Chicago alderman has her way the next superintendent of police will not only hail from the Windy City but will also be black.
“I think that the next police superintendent should be an African American from Chicago and from within the ranks, who is young enough to garner the respect of the cop on the street and experience enough to lead the department,” said Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd), whose South Side ward includes the Bronzeville neighborhood.
The last two police chiefs were white and not from Chicago. In fact, the last time Chicago had a black police chief was in 2003 when Terry Hillard was the top cop. He came back in 2011 to briefly serve as interim superintendent until Garry McCarthy took the helm. McCarthy was fired in December as part of string of changes currently taking place with the Chicago Police Department.
Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dorothy Brown, who is also a member of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Board, agreed that the next top cop should be a Chicago native.
“I believe that the next police chief should either come from Chicago, or be someone that previously worked on the Chicago Police force,” Brown said.
But hiring a black police superintendent will not repair the strained relationship the police department has traditionally had with minority communities, contends retired police officer Alfonzo Wysinger.
The former first assistant with the CPD, who retired in October after more than 20 years, said more black police officers are needed.
“Once the police department becomes more diversified with black officers, I promise, you will start to see a change in the way the black community responds to crime,” explained Wysinger. “You will see people getting involved, working closely with the police and keeping our youth engaged in positive activities like church.”
These days the 53-year-old husband and father whose wife is a Chicago police officer, said he spends a lot of time trying to recruit more blacks to join the police department.
“We are the only people in the city not lining up to get this job,” Wysinger said. “[A few] months ago, I attended a police academy graduation and there were 140 graduates, but only seven were black.”
Wysinger declined to answer when asked if he is interested in becoming Chicago’s next police chief.
On Wednesday Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced yet more policy changes for the police department at a City Hall news conference.
Every police officer assigned to street detail will now be equipped with a Taser and will receive training on how to use it by June, the mayor said.
“There’s a difference between whether someone can use a gun and when they should use a gun. And we as a city must train for that difference,” Emanuel said. “These policies are not the end of the challenge. They are the beginning of the solution (to problems) that Chicago has faced for decades.”
The new policy will help improve things a little but Brown said more needs to be done to protect people of color.
“I think the mayor’s recommendation for new training for police officers to de-escalate situations is a good first start, but there is no quick fix to the inherent biases that exist among the rank and file of the police department and how treating people of color more harshly is accepted,” explained Brown. “The system must be changed. How policing is conducted in communities of color must be assessed and changed.”
Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante joined the mayor at the news conference along with several black aldermen.
“Our goal is to change the way officers think when they approach a critical incident by establishing time and distance to allow more prudent thinking and physical space to promote a safer environment.”
And while mandating that all officers carry Tasers is good, Dowell said other changes must also be made to improve the cultural of the police department.
“There must be a retooling of the community policing program and a significant increase in the community policing budget, which has been cut over the years to help restore trust between the police and our communities,” added Dowell. “I support the use of body cams and believe that all police officers should have to pay half the cost of liability insurance (the city should pay the other half) like federal agents do.”
In November a Cook County judge ordered the city of Chicago to make public a police dash cam video that showed a white police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times in October 2014. After the fatal shooting the officer was placed on paid, desk duty, but last month after being charged with first-degree murder, he was fired.
Brown said the teenager killed in 2014, Laquan McDonald, would probably be alive today if a Taser policy had been in place.
“I believe that it should have been mandated that every cop has a Taser and Taser training from day one,” added Brown. “There were enough officers on the scene with McDonald whereby they could have subdued him and Taser him.”
The Cook County Bar Association will sponsor a town hall meeting Thursday, Jan. 7 at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St., to discuss the McDonald shooting. Benjamin Crump, president of the National Bar Association, is among the scheduled speakers.
Last Saturday Chicago police officials acknowledged that officers accidently shot to death Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old grandmother, while trying to arrest 19 year-old Quintonio LeGrier, who was also fatally shot by police.
According to CPD officials, LeGrier approached officers with a baseball bat in his hand, which prompted officers to shoot him. Police gave no details as to how Jones, who lived in the same apartment building with LeGrier, was mistakenly killed.
However, one witness, who declined to give her name, said Jones was shot through the front door.
“She was in bed when officers arrived to the building. As she attempted to open the front door for officers, without knowing who was behind the door, the police started shooting,” according to the witness.
This tragic incident is all the more reason police officers need to receive more training on when to use their guns over a Taser, said Dowell.
“A police officer should use their gun as a last resort and only when it’s necessary to protect their life and the lives of others,” she said. “A police officer should use mace or a Taser before they shoot off their gun.”