Exclusive: 3 Chicago cops open up about policing in the city
CHICAGO - Three Chicago police officers spoke from the heart about a job that is under fire.
All three are African American and have been Chicago cops for more than 20 years. They talked to FOX 32's Dane Placko about a range of topics and answered a question that you have probably asked yourself.
We asked them, what is it like to be a Chicago police officer right now?
"It's difficult. It puts you in a very compromising situation," said Latasha.
"Challenging. You got the political climate that really dictates how we police," Paul said.
"It's a very tough profession at this time," Jeff added.
Jeff is a patrol officer who comes from a cop family, Latasha is a beat cop who has worked districts all over the city, and Paul is a sergeant. They are three African American cops with more than 60 years’ experience, shooting from the hip about policing in Chicago.
"If you've not been the police, you don't truly understand them," Jeff said.
We are hiding their faces and changing their voices so they can speak freely without fear of retribution from their bosses, or the public.
"The climate with the citizens, they're hostile. So a lot of times before you can even deal with whatever their request was that they called the police for, you gotta put that fire out because they're hostile towards the police in general, even though they called the police," Latasha said.
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They say years of anti-police public sentiment sparked by high-profile police shootings has put a target on their own backs, with 27 Chicago police officers shot at and four hit so far this year.
"People do not respect authority. The climate dictates it's okay to do that against the police," Paul said.
But they also say they understand the anger.
"I do understand the hostility. It just makes our jobs very difficult," Latasha said.
"I believe the Black community has proper cause to mistrust the police based on police history with Blacks in this country. That being said, we can't lump every police officer in the same bunch. We have so many police officers from all nationalities out here doing the job correctly," Jeff added.
They worry the police have been undercut by politics. We asked them if they feel they have the support of City Hall.
"Absolutely not," Paul said.
They also feel isolated.
"You feel you don't have the support of the people you're protecting. And you don't have the support of the people you're working for. It's a hard place to be," Jeff said.
They point to Mayor Lori Lightfoot's plans to change the department's foot pursuit policy, following two recent police shootings that started with a chase.
"It was not a wise idea for politicians to come out and say we're gonna change it based on an incident. Right away you're saying that incident was wrong. It's a morale issue," Paul said.
They say it will be difficult to reverse years of police training.
"When you've been policing in high crime areas and you work midnights and you work in the dark and you've been in alleys and vacant lots, you're gonna do what you've been trained to do. You're not gonna stop and say 'oh the mayor just said we couldn't do this,'" Latasha said.
One of those chases resulted in the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village -- a split second after the boy appeared to toss his gun behind a fence.
"The video was clear. He had a gun in his hand. It's a tough call. He goes to turn. The officer didn't know if he dropped the gun, had the gun. And a horrible thing happened," Jeff said. "Is it the police's fault? No, I don't think so. The problem happened long before the police encountered that young man."
They are also seeing more of the people they arrest right back out on the street, which they say makes cops question why they are even arresting them in the first place.
"Lack of prosecution on the state level. They understand the police are hesitant about policing. You can smell the fear or the hesitancy of an officer in how they police. You take advantage of that. They feel like they're able to do whatever they can and get away with it," Paul said.
As for the idea of defunding the police, they welcome the idea of more money for support services like social workers and crisis intervention. However, they had this to say.
"Even when you get a CIT person, a professional, they're gonna need the police there," Paul said.
"If you get rid of us, what will you have? Imagine a city without the police. If you think it's bad with the police, imagine it without the police," Jeff said.
As African American police officers, there are special challenges, like being sent to some white neighborhoods.
"They might say 'I don't want you. Send me another police officer.' The officer knows what that means. It means send me a white officer," Latasha said.
"I come from a community of African-Americans who were policed by some of those racist cops. I've been on the job for over 20 years and I've had to stop some racist cops from doing racist things," Jeff said.
As for their union, they are not fans of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
"I think they're awful...like how they respond to national crises and police shootings. It's almost like things you would say to your guys in the basement when you're having a couple beers," Latasha said.
If there is one thing these three veteran officers want you to remember, it is this.
"I wish there was a way where people realized that we are human. We have families. We cry," Paul said.
"We're human beings and when we put that uniform on, it doesn't stop bullets," Latasha said.