SERGIO HERRERA, A Chicago police officer, was accused in a 2010 lawsuit of teaming up with another officer to mace and beat a black man for no reason. The man was sitting in his parked car when Herrera’s colleague approached the vehicle. As the man went to retrieve his identification, the officer told him to “cuff up,” at which point Herrera entered the fray, spraying the man with mace according to the lawsuit. Both officers then allegedly proceeded to throw the man to the ground, strike him in the head with handcuffs, and dig their knees into his back. When the man asked for medical assistance, his pleas were ignored. Instead, the police took him to the station.
The lawsuit charges that the man’s ribs were fractured, and that he was left with permanent injuries as a result of the incident. The city of Chicago ended up paying the victim a settlement of $75,000, without admitting wrongdoing. Out-of-court settlements for civil rights violations are a common outcome for the department, which is plagued by lawsuits.
Now, Herrera has a new assignment: to be one of several officers who oversee the Chicago Police Department’s “implicit bias” trainings, a program intended to curb incidents of racist police violence.
Herrera’s role is part of a troubling pattern: The trainings are a key part of the city’s efforts to reform its notoriously abusive police force, but revamped trainings that debuted in 2017 have in many cases been overseen by some of the alleged abusers themselves.
Sixteen of the 17 police officers — excluding only Officer Angela McLaurin — who have provided instruction for the procedural justice training program since the start of 2017 have together garnered a total of 111 misconduct complaints, according to police documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The misconduct complaints range from false arrests to illegal searches and include use of excessive force, often against people of color in Chicago. One officer who provided training has faced seven accusations of mistreating black people since 2011. Six other officers have together been accused of abuses in at least ten civil rights lawsuits, with at least half of those cases resulting in settlements or payments to the plaintiffs.
“Over the past two years, the Chicago Police Department has aggressively marched forward on expanding the quantity and quality of in-service training available to officers,” said Sergeant Cindy Guerra of the Chicago police’s Office of the Superintendent, in a statement to The Intercept. “By incorporating national best practices, CPD’s revised training supports officers’ abilities to be successful in the performance of their duties, and ensures sustainable reform.” Guerra, who declined to speak to the outcomes of legal cases, added, “All allegations made against a Chicago Police Officer are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.”
For activists working on policing issues in Chicago, the track records of police officers who have or are giving trainings underscore the problems with pushing for “improved training” as the solution for police violence. “The urgency around policing is valid and real, but the insistence that what we need is better training is leading to massive amounts of money to an already over-inflated arsenal and budget of CPD,” Page May, co-founder of Assata’s Daughters, a collective of black women in Chicago who identify their work as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, told The Intercept.