Editor’s Note: This story was originally published by The Chicago Reporter
After one of the most volatile mass protests in the city’s recent memory sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, Chicago police are investigating at least one officer for covering up his badge number and name tag.
Images and video circulating on social media show police officers who appear to have either taped over the name tags on their uniforms and badge star numbers or removed them entirely. In a statement to The Chicago Reporter Wednesday evening, the Chicago Police Department condemned the practice.
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“All Chicago Police Officers are required to wear their unit assignment designator, nameplate and prescribed star so that they are clearly visible. An internal investigation has been opened into the officer who was photographed without his unit assignment designator and nameplate and with his star number covered. CPD holds its officers to the highest professional standards and violations of the Department’s policy will be addressed,” the department said in a statement.
But the Reporter has obtained images and video that suggest multiple CPD officers may have been engaging in the inappropriate practice of hiding their names star numbers, which are the unique identifying numbers on an officer’s badge.
Kyle Wilkins, 29, took one photo near DePaul’s campus Sunday at about 8:00 p.m. and posted it to Twitter. The image shows an officer with what appears to be duct tape covering his star number.
— Kyle Wilkins (@KyleWilkins) June 1, 2020
“I think he put it on there to cover up his number,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins said once he and some other protestors began complaining, the officer removed the tape from the badge.
“It’s scary,” he said, “Because many officers weren’t even wearing their body cams [sic] and making it harder to identify them is very concerning.”
Ald. Andre Vasquez said Wednesday his office fielded calls about the “shameful” practice all day and he brought it up at City Hall during a meeting of the Committee on Public Safety.
“It says a lot about folks who think they need to tape up their badge,” he said. “What kind of activity does an officer plan on doing that they cover up their badge?”
Vasquez said his office asked the Lightfoot administration about the practice on Tuesday.
“People want to equate us asking questions as if these aren’t serious matters,” he said. “There is a history of inappropriate policing in Chicago. There is a reason why the tension here was different.”
On Monday, video surfaced on social media that showed a Chicago police officer beating a man in Uptown during a demonstration. Ephraim Eaddy, a spokesman for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, told the Chicago Sun-Times the independent monitor received 82 complaints over the weekend.
On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged in her State of the City speech that “the process of reform has been too slow and too narrowly focused,” and pledged to institute immediate steps toward reform within the next 90 days including community-centered and de-escalation training, and mental health support for officers.
In a statement to the Reporter, Chicago’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police said they “do not make the CPD policy nor make the department orders so we can’t speak for CPD.”
The Reporter asked CPD about the images and video that show multiple officers engaging in the practice, and whether there would be a more comprehensive investigation beyond just one officer.
“All allegations that we are made aware of will be addressed,” they said in a statement.
But CPD did not immediately respond to questions about how many allegations they were aware of.
Lightfoot’s office said she strongly condemned the practice.
“Wearing nameplates in uniform is the most universal form of transparency and accountability when it comes to policing. All Chicago Police officers are required to wear and make visible their unit assignment designator, nameplate and prescribed star. Should any officer be found in violation of these policies, we will ensure that they will be held fully accountable,” her office said in a statement Wednesday.
The Chicago Police Department has been under a federal consent decree since January 2019. An investigation by the Reporter found that between 2011 and 2017, the city paid $313 million to settle claims of police misconduct. The tally for 2018 alone was $113 million, according to the most recent analysis.
Jonathan Ballew is a Chicago-based freelance journalist and before that he was a staff reporter at Block Club Chicago. He served five years active duty in the Marine Corps, graduated from DePaul University’s journalism school and is a proud citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.