Chicago, IL

New Policy Bans Chicago Police From Actively Participating in Hate, Extremist Groups

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Unprecedented measures taken to address police ties to hate organizations
Photo byWounded Times [CC BY-SA 3.0]

A civilian-led police oversight panel in Chicago unanimously voted on Monday to endorse a new policy aimed at preventing Chicago police officers from engaging in "active participation" in hate and extremist groups. This decision follows an investigation by the Chicago Police Department, which, despite revealing connections between officers and extremist organizations such as the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three Percenters, failed to take substantial action.

The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) made a significant announcement on Monday, stating that the city's Office of the Inspector General positively responded to their request to "investigate recent allegations of officer involvement with extremists or hate-based organizations."

The genesis of the panel's collaboration with Inspector General Deborah Witzburg can be traced back to a comprehensive investigation by WBEZ, the Sun-Times, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. This investigation exposed numerous current and former Chicago police officers who were once affiliated with the Oath Keepers, prompting the need for proactive measures.

The newly endorsed policy aims to provide explicit guidance on the specific groups that law enforcement officers should refrain from joining to avoid disciplinary action.

"Given the gravity and urgency of this issue, we believe it's imperative to vote on this policy today," emphasized Commissioner Remel Terry. "Our ongoing commitment is to ensure that the Chicago Police Department not only implements this policy effectively but also monitors its execution, providing regular updates on the outcomes."

The policy builds upon an existing departmental order preventing officers from joining "criminal organizations" by extending the prohibition to participation in groups that employ force to infringe upon others' rights, pursue ideological objectives, or advocate for "systemic illegal prejudice, oppression, or discrimination."

Notably, the policy explicitly prohibits membership in groups seeking to "overthrow, destroy, or alter the form of government of the United States by constitutional means."

Identification of banned organizations will be the responsibility of the police department's counterterrorism bureau, with the list being kept confidential from the public.

The collaboration between CCPSA and the police department spans ten months. Ahead of Monday's vote, CCPSA President Anthony Driver highlighted that the department has a 60-day window to respond to the change, and Mayor Brandon Johnson holds the authority to veto the policy. Johnson, who campaigned earlier this year pledging to terminate any Oath Keepers and Proud Boys within the Chicago Police Department, remains a central figure in this initiative.

The investigative series "Extremism in the Ranks" conducted by WBEZ and the Sun-Times exposed 27 current and former Chicago cops linked to the anti-government Oath Keepers, including nine officers currently on active duty. Moreover, the series revealed shortcomings in a previous police investigation that did not encompass all officers implicated in association with the Oath Keepers.

Inspector General Witzburg criticized the police department's handling of investigations into officers associated with extremist groups, urging the Bureau of Internal Affairs to reopen three separate cases. Additionally, Witzburg argued that existing rules already empower Mayor Johnson to fulfill his campaign promise by citing broad rules prohibiting officers from discrediting the department and undermining its goals.

The Chicago Police Department has initiated its internal investigation into officers connected to the Oath Keepers. Chief of Bureau of Internal Affairs, Yolanda Talley, projected the completion of this investigation "in less than six months." Superintendent Larry Snelling, handpicked by Mayor Johnson, assured City Council members of rigorous efforts to eliminate extremists and expel them from the police force.

However, historical records indicate that previous efforts within the Chicago Police Department to address officers with extremist ties have encountered obstacles and shortcomings.

An investigation was launched following National Public Radio's report in November 2021, revealing a group of Chicago cops on a leaked membership roster for the Oath Keepers. Despite a stark warning from the Anti-Defamation League and the revelation of up to eight Chicago police officers on the leaked rolls, the probe targeting only three officers was not expanded and concluded without imposing discipline.

Internal Affairs faced criticism for its handling of Officer Robert Bakker, who misled investigators about his affiliation with the neofascist Proud Boys, a group involved in the Capitol riot. Bakker entered into a mediation agreement, resulting in a 120-day suspension, drawing objections from alderpersons and activists advocating for his dismissal.

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