Officials: Video of Chicago police shooting may spur training adjustments

Reaction to the shooting by city officials was unusually swift and direct


Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department does not specifically train officers on use of force and de-escalation methods for the city’s crowded CTA train system, a gap experts said has been magnified with the controversial shooting by police of an unarmed man after a struggle during rush hour in a downtown Red Line station.

As it stands, the department’s guidelines make no distinction between an officer drawing a gun while confronting a suspect in a vacant lot and doing the same in the busy, confined spaces of CTA rail lines. And the Red Line incident took place just as CPD was adding 50 officers to the ranks of the 200 who already patrol the "L" network, virtually ensuring an increase in the kind of encounter that touched off the shooting.

Chicago police patrol the CTA Red Line subway platform at the Jackson station on March 5, 2020. (Photo/TNS)
Chicago police patrol the CTA Red Line subway platform at the Jackson station on March 5, 2020. (Photo/TNS)

In the Feb. 28 incident, two officers made a fateful choice. One shouted at his partner to shoot a man they had wrestled with, and she did — once as the suspect ran away from the cops up an escalator in the presence of startled commuters.

Department leaders said the incident could spur adjustments in training.

“That’s a possibility. We often look at our training in light of situations that arise," Daniel Godsel, deputy chief in charge of CPD’s police academy, told the Tribune this week.

Experts interviewed by the Tribune said the shooting points to several training deficiencies and also raises questions about preparing officers for posts with a high volume of interactions with the public.

“If you have officers that are going to be working in a particular space that has a higher than usual level of anything ... you want to have them better trained than the average officer,” said David Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

The principles of current officer training can carry into different environments, Godsel said, and while officers aren’t trained for specific situations in the CTA rail system such as the one that emerged last month, they are expected to take the “totality of the circumstances” into account as they make decisions to use lethal force.

“It would certainly have to do with the environment, such as a crowd of people,” said Godsel. “The officers have to be aware of their entire situation, the entire picture."

The incident also promises to be a test for the city’s four-month-old Force Review Board, a group mandated under reform to help the department address training or policy deficiencies that contribute to unnecessary uses of force against the public.

The CTA shooting is the most high-profile CPD shooting that board has handled, and is arguably among the most explosive videotaped incidents the department has grappled with since the 2014 killing of teenager Laquan McDonald — an incident that resulted in criminal charges and a second-degree murder conviction for Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Per a department general order, the board, which includes the superintendent and other department officials, evaluates incidents to see if actions by officers were “tactically sound and consistent with department training.” Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck on Wednesday stripped the two officers involved in the Red Line shooting of their police powers, and the incident is under criminal investigation by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office with assistance from the FBI.

Reaction to the shooting by city officials was unusually swift and direct, perhaps driven by the availability of the cellphone video taken by a CTA customer. That included Mayor Lori Lightfoot calling it "extremely disturbing.”

In it, the officers involved can be seen wrestling with a man, 33-year-old Ariel Roman, and attempting to pin him to the floor of the Grand Red Line station and handcuff him. One of them repeatedly yells, “stop resisting,” and then says, “shoot him.”

Roman can be seen on the video getting up and staggering, as one of the officers fires her gun at him. Another shot can be heard as Roman darts up an escalator in the station, which was filling with late-afternoon commuters heading home from work on a Friday.

The chain of events began when the two officers, who both joined the department in 2017 and were assigned to the mass transit unit, saw Roman hopping from train car to train car — a city ordinance violation. Roman was expected to make a long recovery from being shot in the abdomen and buttocks, according to his lawyer.

Aside from the regular CPD training, officers assigned to mass transit detail do receive training from the CTA, officials said, but that training has nothing to do with use of force or de-escalation techniques for dealing with people who resist them in crowded stations.

Those officers receive "CTA rail-safety training to familiarize them with basic CTA rail operations and procedures," said Brian Steele, a CTA spokesman. "It’s a daylong training that involves both classroom and field instruction."

Godsel said CPD’s regular training does include instruction on use of force and de-escalation in confined spaces, including confronting unruly suspects on CTA buses. Some of that training is applicable to the incident last week, he said.

“Generally speaking, when you refer to close quarters those techniques haven’t changed," Godsel said. "The training is still sound. And it’s still relevant. So that wouldn’t change.”

Beck has not specifically stated whether he expects changes to training after the videotaped shooting, and the department did not make him available for this story.

Experts who viewed the viral video of the encounter told the Tribune the officer who fired did not appear to justifiably shoot Roman, saying the handling of the confrontation was rife with tactical errors, including poor teamwork and should be cited in future department instruction.

“I want officers that know how to talk to people and calm people down,” Klinger said. "But also I want officers who are competent to engage physically with people and get them under control.

“And it appears to me ... setting aside the nature of this interaction in terms of how it came about, (once) the physical altercation goes down, you have to be able to do a better job than these two officers did.”

Adam Bercovici, a security consultant and a former Los Angeles police lieutenant, said the two officers were "outmatched physically" by Roman during the struggle.

“They were exhausted so that could have affected their judgment as well,” Bercovici said.

Both use-of-force experts said the officer who discharged the shots made a bad decision to open fire when her partner was standing behind the suspect.

“If she misses, or if the bullet goes through the body of the suspect, her partner is going to be struck, so it just doesn’t make sense from a positional, tactical perspective," Klinger said. "Then the question of, what is the justification for pulling the trigger at that point?”

Klinger also found problems with the confrontation even before the actual shooting. For instance, as Roman wrestled with the male officer on the ground, one of his hands grasped that officer’s handcuffs as the cop tried to place them on Roman’s wrist. In that situation, Klinger said, the female cop should have stepped on his hand or tried to pry his fingers off the cuffs.

“It’s just a failure in terms of teamwork and in terms of a concerted effort based upon an understanding that we need to get control of the handcuffs and we need to get the handcuffs on this person,” said Klinger, a former police officer in Los Angeles and suburban Seattle.

Godsel said CPD’s current training does stress using physical restraint against combative suspects to gain compliance.

“If an individual is fighting with a police officer, the officer has certain techniques and tools that that officer can respond with,” Godsel said.

For many years, CPD has struggled to adequately train its cops, including on when to use deadly force.

In a 2017 report on Chicago’s policing practices, the U.S. Justice Department found that CPD provided such poor training and supervision to its officers that, in some cases, those inadequacies led to police misconduct. The report’s findings helped eventually set into motion a federal court ruling requiring CPD to follow a consent decree to improve officer training and other policing issues.

But at the same time, the department on its own began boosting in-service training for officers. This year, officers will be required to undergo 32 hours of training and 40 in 2021, and in each year after that.

This includes scenario-based training on CPD’s revamped use-of-force policy, de-escalating tense encounters and dealing with people experiencing mental health crises and other issues.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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