John Wrana's killing shows need for better trained police

Over thirty years ago I was working the police wagon in Lawndale on a hot sticky humid summer morning.

We were assigned to transport a person to a psychiatric institution. When we arrived at the address on Douglas Boulevard, a family was standing on the sidewalk, dressed in their Sunday finery.

A man approached and handed me a court order. He explained that his mother was having mental issues. He went to court to have her committed.

I asked where she was. He told me she was in their apartment on the third floor. The last thing you want to do on a hot humid summer day is walk up six flights of stairs to the third floor.

We found the elderly woman sitting on her bed. We explained that we had to take her to the hospital. She became agitated and angrily told us she was not going anywhere. Her son was just trying to get rid of her. We tried to talk to her calmly. She made it clear she was not leaving "her home".

I reached out to take her elbow. She pulled back. She became extremely agitated and angry. She told us she may be 75 years old but she was not stupid. She knew her son did not want her living under his roof.

It was time to back off and walk away. I explained to the gentleman that we could not remove his mother from the apartment. He insisted that we honor the court order and remove her. I told him the only way we could do that was to grab her, handcuff her, and drag her down six flights of stairs. I asked him if he wanted his children to see their grandmother treated that way. I suggested he take the family to church, let her cool off, and call back later.

Two days later I received a complaint from what was then the Office of Professional Standards. It was for failing to obey and execute a court order. That is a very serious charge.

I called the judge who issued the order. I explained the situation to him. The judge  assured me he would call the head of OPS and straighten the issue out. If he could not do that, he would hold me in contempt of court, bring all the parties, including the head of OPS into his court room, and read them the riot act. That, he said, would be on the public record. With a chuckle, he said that court records are leaked to the press. We were eventually exonerated. (This was from a previous item in Interesting Chicago)

One thing was stressed in the Police Academy and reinforced during my almost thirty year career. Protect and do no harm to the most vulnerable in society, small children and the elderly. The elderly should be treated with respect and dignity, even if they are suffering from dementia and may appear violent.

Treat the elderly the way you would want your mother, father, or grandparents treated.

That is the Old School way.


Photos: Chicago Tribune

On July 26, 2013, John Wrana, 95, was killed by the Park Forest Police. Mr. Wrana was a resident in a retirement home. His only crime was suffering a mental crisis.

This was a death that could have and should have been prevented.

On Wednesday, Park Forest police officer, Craig Taylor was charged with felony reckless conduct in the death. It is alleged he fired five bean bag rounds from a twelve gauge shot gun at close range, striking Mr. Wrana.

John Kass and the Chicago Tribune followed the story with tenacity.  For more information read the Tribune stories  and John Kass columns . (Subscription may be necessary for some)

John Wrana was killed for one reason and one reason only.

It had nothing to do with being armed with real or perceived weapons.

It had nothing to do with nursing home staff or police officers being in harm's way.

The reason John Wrana was killed is lack of training, experience, empathy, and respect.

SWAT teams enter a suburban neighborhood to search an apartment for the remaining suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings in Watertown

The Tommy Tactical approach eschews respect or empathy." Git-R-Done." (Chicago Tribune photo.)

The Park Forest Police took the Tommy Tactical approach. The Tommy Tactical  approach eschews respect, empathy, and training.

Tommy Tacticals do it fast and furious. In this case seven minutes from the time they executed their "plan".

One could wonder, if they bragged and gave each other high fives over their swift seven minute take down. Or did they debrief to see if they could do it faster the next time?

That was the easy way.

That is the way poorly trained, inexperienced, or lazy police officers do things.

In any situation or confrontation, the Tommy Tactical approach should be the option of last resort. It appears in Park Forest it is the only option.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the mayor of Park Forest claimed the city and police department are devastated over the charges against Officer Craig Taylor.

Park Forest mayor, John A. Ostenburg never claimed any civic or police department devastation over the death of John Wrana.

In 2004, the Chicago Police Department recognized a need for training officers to handle people in mental distress. Certain parts of Chicago had increasing populations of people suffering from mental illness or having the potential to go into crisis.

The Crisis Intervention program was initiated under the auspices of the Chicago chapter of National Association on Mental Illness. The program was modeled after the Memphis Model.

In 2012, a new directive establishing and expanding the program was issued.

The reason for adopting this approach was to minimize injury, catastrophic injury, or death in police encounters with citizens in crisis. Citizens like 95 year old John Wrana.

The objective is to deescalate the situation with no or minimal force. Simply use time, as much time as it takes. Force, minimal or extreme, is the last resort.

From all reports on the John Wrana incident, it appears the Park Forest Police were poorly trained or inexperienced in handling people in crisis. Maybe they were just impatient. They had better things to do.

They took the Tommy Tactical approach. Fast, furious, and fatal. "Git-R-Done."

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