POLITICS
12/30/2015 09:57 pm ET

Chicago Police Will Double Number Of Tasers, Get De-Escalation Training

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the policy overhaul after police killed two unarmed civilians.

CHICAGO -- Chicago cops will have a Taser in every squad car by next June, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced days after the city's latest high-profile fatal police shooting of civilians. 

Doubling the department's number of Tasers to 1,400 and boosting Taser training was part of the larger overhauls to CPD policies and procedures Emanuel and interim superintendent John Escalante announced during a Wednesday press conference. 

Emanuel said the department will now focus on de-escalation tactics so that "force can be the last option, not the first choice."

"If you have eight officers -- like in the Laquan McDonald situation -- all calling for a Taser and none of them have it, we have a problem," Emanuel said. None of the eight cops who responded to the 2014 incident in which McDonald was fatally shot by police were equipped with a Taser.

Just one-fifth of the city's police are currently certified to use a Taser. Along with increasing the department's use of Tasers and training, Emanuel and Escalante said officers will immediately receive more nuanced de-escalation training. Departmental policies have been changed to reflect the de-escalation priority, with the goal of making police and civilian interactions “less confrontational and more conversational,” Emanuel said.  

"What we are doing is injecting some humanity into the work of the police department and the police officers," Emanuel told reporters. "We want to make sure officers aren’t acting in either first gear or fifth gear, but to recognize the degrees in between."

"Just because you train that you can use force, doesn’t mean that you should," Emanuel noted. 

What we are doing is injecting some humanity into the work of the police department and the police officers." Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Escalante said the department's goal is to resolve confrontations using the least amount of physical or lethal force necessary and to "change the way officers think" when they approach a critical incident.

Officers will be trained to establish time and distance on the scene to allow for "more prudent thinking and physical space to allow for a safer environment," Escalante said. 

A growing number of police departments are relying on Tasers as an alternative to firearms, even though the stun guns can be potentially lethal: Nearly 50 people this year have died in police incidents where a Taser was involved, according to the Washington Post. 

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Simmering criticism of the mayor and the police department boiled over last month when the city was forced by a court order to release video footage that showed CPD officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times as the teen walked away. The city fought for more than a year to keep the video from being released, prompting accusations of a cover-up in City Hall and calls for Emanuel to resign. 

Emanuel returned from his family vacation in Cuba after Chicago police fatally shot two unarmed people -- one of them accidentally -- during a distress call on Dec. 26. 

Police killed 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, claiming he was "combative" as they responded to a domestic disturbance early in the morning. Police also accidentally killed LeGrier's downstairs neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones.

LeGrier was home from college on break when family said he became "a little agitated" and was banging a baseball bat against the bedroom door, prompting them to call police for assistance. 

Escalante on Wednesday declined to elaborate on the scant details of what happened that morning, though Emanuel acknowledged that public trust in Chicago police is "frayed to the point that it's broken."

After the Saturday morning incident, Emanuel announced the police department would immediately place officers involved in shootings on 30-day desk work breaks to evaluate their fitness for duty. Officers involved in shootings were previously put on desk duty for just 72 hours. 

The policy overhaul comes just weeks after the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the department. Absent the new reforms, Escalante denied the department had a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy. 

The police chief and Emanuel said they looked at a number of cities, including New York, Seattle, Cleveland, Portland and Cincinnati, to glean ideas on how to effectively reform department policies. 

Emanuel said the cities they examined shared a common tie of having "gone through a change with the Department of Justice." 

"We an change the culture piece by piece, policy by policy," Emanuel said. 

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