CHI-TOWN LOW DOWN: City Council expands police profiling ordinance, more work ahead

By Managing Editor

A preexisting ban on police profiling has been expanded to include gender identity and national origin following a Jan. 20 vote from the Chicago City Council. The City Council Finance Committee voted unanimously on Jan. 15 in favor of the ordinance aimed at protecting Chicago’s transgender and immigrant communities, as reported Jan. 26 by The Chronicle.

The sensitivity of Chicago Police Officers to gender expression is a matter of concern. Xavier Chism, an off-duty Chicago police officer who worked as a security guard at a South Side high school, attacked Aaliyah Russel-Morgan, a 17-year-old lesbian student, on Dec. 18, 2013, after the officer allegedly targeted her for wearing “boy clothes.” Chism allegedly told Russel-Morgan that if she wanted to dress like a boy, he would treat her like one. Russel-Morgan and her brother Brandon Russell, who was also involved in the altercation, filed a civil lawsuit against the city and Chism after the Independent Police Review Authority found Chism innocent of wrongdoing, according to a Jan. 30 RedEye report.

However, the Chicago Police Department told a completely different story in an arrest report filed after both Russel-Morgan and Russell were taken into custody for allegedly attacking the police, according to the RedEye report.

Since the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases—in which two unarmed black men were each killed by a white police officer—there has been an urgent push for police departments to hold officers accountable for racial profiling.

State Senator Bill Haine (D–Alton) announced his support for House Bill 3911, which would increase funding for body cameras for police, according to a Sept. 11 press release from the 56th Legislative District. However, the bill was tabled on Dec. 3 and there was no further call to action.

Passing legislation that would aid in funding body cameras for CPD could not only ensure that the ordinance’s new rules are being enforced, but it could also decrease harmful situations that arise from gender or race profiling tactics used by police, similar to Russel-Morgan’s case.

A March 2013 study authored by Police Foundation Executive Fellow Chief Tony Farrar showed that police officers’ self-awareness was increased while wearing a body camera, which resulted in a 50 percent decrease in the use of excessive force.

Without the use of body cameras, witnesses must provide their own accounts of a scene where foul play may have been involved, which often differs from person to person. However, the use of body cameras alongside the revised ordinance would not leave room for questions about who was attacked.