Shootings by Chicago cops on rise in 2011, but why?
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporteremail@example.com July 23, 2011 12:10AM
Chicago Police Officer Danny O’Toole (second from right) and other officers prepare to search a house in the 2800 block of Christiana in February 2010. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
POLICE-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS IN WHICH AN OFFICER SHOT A PERSON:
2011 40* — 16 fatal
2010 46 — 13 fatal
2009 61 — 19 fatal
2008 55 — 22 fatal
2007 39 — 8 fatal
2006 44 — 17 fatal
*as of July 21
SOURCE: Independent Police Review Authority; news accounts
AGGRAVATED BATTERIES/ASSAULTS ON POLICE OFFICERS:
*as of June 30
SOURCE: Chicago Police Department
Updated: October 29, 2011 12:36AM
Chicago Police officers have shot 40 people this year, nearly as many as in all of 2010.
No one knows for sure why police-involved shootings are up.
But Officer Danny O’Toole — who killed a suspect in 2009 and was wounded in a shootout just two weeks later — thinks he knows why.
“The younger generation is brazen, they just don’t care,” he said. “It’s ‘shoot at the police and make my escape.’ And we shoot back.”
Police point to statistics that show aggravated assaults and batteries on police officers have risen from 739 in 2000 to 1,789 last year.
Last week, a spotlight was cast on the danger that officers such as O’Toole face every day.
Chicago Police Officers Ruben DelValle and Jeffrey Friedlieb were wounded in a shootout Monday while they were investigating a suspected drug deal in West Garfield Park.
Daniel Jones, a 27-year-old parolee, opened fire on them in a West Side alley, prosecutors said. The officers returned fire, but Jones was not hit. DelValle was shot in the left arm and grazed in the head. Friedlieb was hit in the back of the head. But neither officer suffered a life-threatening wound. They’ve been released from the hospital.
“These were fortunate young men,” police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
A day earlier, police shot and killed a 19-year-old man outside a South Side club after the officers received a report of a man with a gun. The man reached for a pistol and the officers shot him, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Even though such shootings are on the rise, overall violent crime in Chicago is falling this year, police say.
Ilana Rosenzweig, director of the Independent Police Review Authority, said she’s not sure why police-involved shootings are up but noted they are at a midyear “high mark” compared to the past four years.
The spike may be cyclical or there could be systemic causes — involving training or police policy — but it’s too early to tell without studying each shooting, Rosenzweig said. The agency investigates every police-involved shooting, even those that don’t include allegations of police misconduct, to determine whether there are any lessons to be drawn to make officers or the public safer, she said.
Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden was more certain of why police-involved shootings have climbed this year, leaving at least 16 people dead — compared to the 13 people killed in all of 2010.
“There’s no fear of the police,” Camden said.
He also said a shortage of police officers is a factor.
“Trust me, when you have more visibility, when you have more two-man cars, this kind of thing doesn’t happen as much,” he said.
But CeaseFire Director Tio Hardiman, whose organization mediates conflicts to prevent shootings, said he thinks police are sometimes too quick to pull the trigger these days.
“You have this ‘license to kill’ mindset,” Hardiman said. “The mindset is: ‘We are going to get the crime down no matter what it takes.’ ”
Hardiman said the police department needs to do a better job of communicating with inner-city youth.
“The police get training on working in crime hot spots, but young people don’t have any training on how to deal with the police,” he said.
Then there are the neighbors and relatives of those who are shot by the police. They’re often skeptical of the circumstances surrounding such shootings, even if investigators determine they were justified.
For example, Shandra Kidd, 22, was sentenced Thursday to 55 years in prison for pointing a gun at an officer’s chest and pulling the trigger in 2007. Kidd didn’t realize the gun wasn’t loaded, prosecutors said. The officer shot Kidd in the buttocks after she pointed the gun and pulled the trigger a second time, officials said.
But her mother, Renea Brown, disputed the officer’s account.
“His story does not make any sense,” Brown said. “If she pointed the gun at his chest, how did she get shot in the butt?”
O’Toole — the officer who shot a suspect and was wounded in a shootout two weeks later — said he realizes any police-involved shooting is likely to be disputed, sometimes in court.
“You have to do your job and not think about that,” he said.
Still, the Independent Police Review Authority rarely deems a police-involved shooting to be “out of policy,” and no Chicago Police officers have been charged with criminal wrongdoing involving shootings in recent memory.
O’Toole said he fatally shot a man trying to run over police officers. Two weeks later, he was shot during a drug raid and fired back but did not hit the suspect.
O’Toole said he was in the parking lot of a Walgreens near Western and Madison when he and other officers were getting ready to bust a man for possession of Ecstasy in June 2009.
“He backs out of Walgreens at 50 miles per hour, hits a police car, backs into a pole,” O’Toole said. “We ran up to his car and he tried to run over us. He ran over my teammate Jorge Martinez’s foot. We couldn’t get out of the way. We were in front of the car. We shot him through the window and killed him.”
O’Toole said he was on an emotional rollercoaster after the shooting.
He had to square his anxiety over taking another person’s life with his sworn duty to save the lives of others and himself.
O’Toole went back to work, and two weeks later, in July 2009, he was with a team that conducted a search warrant of a home near 112nd Place and Michigan. When the officers entered the house, they noticed children in the kitchen. O’Toole and his partner, Scott McKenna, went from room to room looking for anyone with a gun.
“There was a door to the left,” he recalled. “As we kicked it, one guy shot.”
O’Toole and McKenna both were hit in the leg.
O’Toole said his mind flashed to the children in the kitchen.
“I thought, ‘I have to get up and continue the fight,’ ” he said.
O’Toole said he and his partner returned fire, then O’Toole hopped to a porch and shot into the room where the gunman and another man had ambushed the officers.
Neither suspect was wounded. The shooter was hiding behind a file cabinet, O’Toole said.
“These were guys who were going to fight their way out of the situation,” he said. “This could have been a nightmare if a little kid got shot.”
The alleged shooter, Kenneth Green, 23, faces trial next month on charges of attempted murder of police officers.
O’Toole said the shootout took a toll. His ears were damaged by the sound of the gunfire and he now wears hearing aids.
“I could not hear my wife talk for four days after that shooting,” he said. “The superintendent came to the hospital to thank me, and all I saw were his lips moving.”
O’Toole said his wounded leg goes numb every morning and McKenna suffers from stiffness in his wounded leg. But they both returned to work and have executed hundreds of search warrants since the shootout.
“Every time my team and I go into a house, it’s a life-or-death situation,” O’Toole said. “I don’t worry about what’s on my left or right. I trust my guys with my life. But I never know when I’m going to have to use my gun again.”