During a week of nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, a disturbing trend has emerged in Chicago. Scores of police officers have been accused of removing or covering the name tags and badges on their uniforms while on duty at the demonstrations.
At least 78 complaints have been filed regarding the practice since the protests began on May 29 in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, according to the Chicago Police Department.
It is unclear exactly how many individual officers may be under investigation, according to CPD, as some of the complaints may involve the same officers.
Although Mayor Lori Lighfoot has called for firing officers who have engaged in this practice, police Superintendent David Brown will ultimately have the final say as to what happens to them.
“If you are one of those officers, we will find you, we will identify you and we will strip you of your police powers. Period. We are not going to tolerate this in our city,” Lightfoot said at a press conference last week.
Lightfoot’s office reiterated the mayor’s stance Wednesday that officers who violated department policies would be held “fully accountable” but declined to comment specifically on disciplinary measures for this behavior “as those are at the discretion of the Superintendent.”
A CPD spokesman said the superintendent would take a number of factors into consideration following internal investigations on the complaints, including “the nature of circumstances or any extenuating circumstances, the officer’s complementary and disciplinary history, among others,” but also declined to specify what discipline might look like.
It would seem that swift action against Chicago police officers is possible. Just days after Block Club Chicago published photos of an officer giving two middle fingers to protesters, he was stripped of all police powers while pending investigation.
Lightfoot’s administration did not respond to questions asking if profanity was a more severe act of misconduct than officers hiding or removing their badges.
A Chicago Police Department policy specifically states that “failure of a member, whether on or off duty, to correctly identify himself by giving his name, rank and star number when so requested by other members of the Department or by a private citizen,” is a violation, but it does not establish any relevant disciplinary action.
The Chicago Reporter has obtained more than 30 images or videos that show officers removing or hiding their badges — many in which the officer’s face is clearly visible.
This video, taken on June 4, 2020, around 7:27 p.m. at a protest outside of the police academy at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd. shows an officer with no name tag and his badge obscured. (Video by Michelle Balzer)
Michelle Balzer, 25, was out protesting near the Chicago Police training academy at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd. on Thursday, June 4 when she recorded a video that shows an officer without the proper badges and identification.
“It infuriates me,” she said. “Not only because it’s illegal but the people supposed to uphold the law are breaking it. It’s also terrifying because even if I wanted to report police misconduct, I’d be unable to.”
Balzer said she saw the practice happen dozens of times over the week she spent protesting.
“The officers would barely look at us,” she said. “And their commanders standing behind them would ignore us as well. Those officers should be fired.”
Catherine Sharp, 24, took photos of officers who appear to have removed or hidden their identifying badges.
“I asked for the officer’s names maybe two or three times,” she said. “He tried not to make eye contact with me.”
“I think it’s cops trying to avoid accountability,” she said. “And that has been a consistent issue in Chicago policing. I feel like they are kind of proving the protesters’ point.”
The Reporter reached out to the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police multiple times for comment but the police union did not respond.
According to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which receives complaints regarding police conduct, any subsequent investigations will be conducted by the police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs.
COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy said 519 complaints alleging various acts of misconduct had been filed since Friday, May 29.
“What we have seen in this past week we typically see in a month,” he said. “I think that speaks to the moment that we are having in this city and across the country.”