Right before graduation from the police academy, when Chicago police officers get their stars and are granted police powers, they swear an oath to defend the Constitution.
But rarely do they enjoy such a literal opportunity to protect democracy, with 34 officers sent to Washington, D.C., to help protect the transition of power on Inauguration Day — something that feels more like defending the Constitution than in years past after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, said Officer Michael Carroll.
“Every officer took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and this is a constitutional process, so to work in this kind of capacity, it’s almost like … there is more meaning now because of the events that happened (Jan. 6), there’s more meaning to that oath,” said Carroll, who works in the department’s news affairs division and is the spokesman for the Chicago officers who were sworn in as special deputy U.S. Marshals for their brief trip.
To be considered for the job, officers had to have volunteered in late summer. Upon acceptance, they had to undergo additional training to learn about differences in procedures in Chicago and Washington. Officers from across the city were selected, he said.
“I wanted to do it because it was a very unique way to serve. I became an officer to serve my community, my city, and this is a way to serve my country. We took the oath to be an officer, and this is one way to follow through with that,” Carroll said.
While it is Carroll’s first time participating, the city has been sending Chicago officers to work in the nation’s capital since at least the 1989 inauguration of George H.W. Bush. The unit’s liaison, a D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officer, said that agency has been asking for support from municipalities across the country since 1890.
This year’s inauguration is surely among the most radically different in all that time.
Officers, most on the ground since Monday morning, are seeing firsthand how the pandemic and the insurrection at the Capitol have altered plans. For one thing, 120 officers had been tapped to make the trip this year, but Carroll said the number was pared back to 40 when it became clear the coronavirus continued to pose a threat and large crowds weren’t an option. After that decision was made, another six weren’t able to attend.
“There was a large reduction in officers. My belief is it’s because there were fewer physical events happening,” he said.
The Chicago officers will be positioned near the White House in an area that might typically have been along the parade route, but the parade will be virtual this year. The usual inaugural balls where officers might have been stationed have been called off as well.
But Carroll said he thinks the biggest shift is the presence of some 25,000 National Guard members and the closure of so many public spaces, such as the National Mall, that seem to be more about security threats than the danger of COVID-19.
Carroll said he keeps hearing folks on national television news programs talking about security protocols, background checks and whether police — who some generalize as skewing largely conservative — can be trusted not to aid or sympathize with those protesting on behalf on departing President Donald Trump. He doesn’t believe that’s fair.
“Every officer I’ve talked to from across the country is happy to be here, they’re proud to be here, and to be a part of this,” he said. “I don’t think they give enough credit to the officers.”
What’s more, Carroll said, although lodging, a per diem allowance and a stipend are issued by the federal government, officers are required to use personal days for the time off work from Chicago. Given that some of the crew are as high ranking as First Deputy Eric Carter and chief of the counterterrorism bureau, Jose Tirado, most are likely to lose money on the assignment.
Carroll said that while the events of Jan. 6 should not be minimized, he thinks police officers — even those who might have stronger than average political opinions — are well-versed in the agency’s rules that place the highest premium on the sanctity of human life and treating all people with respect and dignity.
“We were reminded our jobs are to live outside of politics, but it’s what we always do as part of our training,” he said. “Our job is to ensure the same First Amendment rights to all, and we wouldn’t change the way we serve a person based on that person’s politics.
“If an officer weren’t able to separate those two things they wouldn’t be here.”