AUSTIN — In a controversial training practice, the Chicago Police Department is constructing mock courtrooms, law offices to simulate misconduct hearings for cadets.
“We try to prepare our cadets for the situations they’re likely to encounter while on the job,” said instructor Jim Nowak, 52. “And for a lot of officers, that involves allegations of misconduct.”
For many officers-in-training, the mock buildings offer a multitude of uses. “On duty, you’d expect to be in court for any number of reasons, right?” said cadet Pete DiAngelo, 21. “But this will come in handy for off-duty stuff too. It’s reassuring to know that the Police Board has got my back, even when I’m being random.”
Thanks to our sponsors:
In addition to the immediate training benefits, cadets are immersing themselves into the mock courtrooms in more ways than one. To prepare for court simulations in which they would play jurors and litigators, officers-in-training were seen reviewing episodes of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and trying on British barrister wigs, just for fun.
“When I came here, I knew I’d be learning the ins and outs of police misconduct,” said trainee Irina Green, 19. “But learning how to ground myself in my body and create a space in which to play with all the other future officers has been a wonderful surprise.”
The state-of-the-art “discipline scenario buildings” will include tactical boxes used to practice stacking the jury, strategic witness stands, and plywood windowless rooms to give cadets experience in the nuances of the judicial system. “It’s vital to give our trainees as accurate a portrait of what their role as a CPD officer will entail,” said Nowak. “If a cadet graduates fearing that he might go to jail or be disciplined for any misconduct, that’s a failure on our part.”
“We just can’t let that happen,” Nowak added, pouring strategic creamer into his coffee in the scenario courtroom kitchenette, as cadets practiced throwing gavels at each other in the entrance hall behind him.
It’s normal for future cops to be nervous about facing repercussions for the actions they’ll be encouraged to do throughout their careers, but the support of the CPD and the judicial system provide reassurance. “I’m so grateful that these institutions will help me let my freak flag fly,” said DiAngelo, double-parking across two simulation handicap spots. “As a kid, I was punished for being different. Teachers would hate when I was creative in who I punched or yelled at, and that made me feel small.”
“But here, I can truly be myself,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I’m celebrated just for being me and also following orders.”
In the weeks to come, the cadets will work through numerous scenarios, practicing sitting on juries, giving pre-written statements, shaking hands and more. At lunch time, a tactical food truck was bussed in to supply sandwiches during a mock court recess.