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Q&A With LFPD Chief Karl Walldorf on Black Lives Matter Protest

Lake Forest Police Department Chief of Police Karl Walldorf recently sat down to answer questions with Joey Goodsir, reporting on behalf of Lake Bluff Strong.

By Joey Goodsir

Considering the fervent discussions of policing in our country about the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, and the public demonstrations his death has sparked, now is a good time to hear from local law enforcement leaders. Lake Bluff Strong reached out to Lake Forest Police Chief Karl Walldorf about the role the city's law enforcement plays in these discussions in addition to the LFPD's actions before and during the June 3 Black Lives Matter protest on Market Square, the largest recorded protest in Lake Forest’s history.

Joey Goodsir, a recent Lake Forest High School graduate who was a co-editor of the school newspaper in 2019-20, interviewed Chief Walldorf recently after crowd-sourcing questions in the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff News Group on Facebook.

Below is a transcript of the interview, which has been edited lightly for clarity. (Click here to read the interview Goodsir conducted with the city's mayor and administrator.)

If you have additional questions, please reach out to Chief Walldorf directly; you can find his email address on the city’s website.

Question: How did you become aware of this protest and what was the police department’s process in addressing it?

Chief Walldorf: “We became aware of it through social media at roughly the same time as the whole city became aware of it (June 1). Many of our officers have connections with the community, so it is not unusual for someone to text a social media thread to me or text an article to an officer, and say “Hey, do you guys know about this?” That’s very common, and that’s the kind of connection you have to build with a community when you’re the police. You want them to feel comfortable emailing you, texting you, or calling you to ask if we are aware of something they’ve come across. We have that pretty good informal network around here, so we became aware of it fairly quickly.

Our process was primarily internal. It was both us preparing our department response to the demonstration itself, but also preparing a series of contingencies in case something went wrong. That really dominated our planning for the next day and a half until the demonstration itself. We were working on that roughly sun-up to midnight every day until the demonstration itself happened, because there are a lot of pieces – particularly on the contingency planning, not so much staffing the event itself, but preparing the contingency plans. And that’s not just the case with this – any outdoor event we work, there are also weather components that can go wrong and frequently have over the years. You have to have all that stuff planned – it ended up being a perfect night weather-wise – but it could have gone the other way too, so then you have to decide when to stop the event itself and send everybody home due to weather. Those are things we plan for all of our outdoor events (Lake Forest Day Parade, 4th of July Concert and Fireworks) just to be responsible in planning. Essentially, from when we knew it was going to occur until it was over, we were in constant motion.

The goal is to make sure that this demonstration would join the vast majority of demonstrations in the Chicagoland area that occur peacefully – which has been true long before 2020, and through 2020 it has been true. I think one of the challenges we faced in executing this is that you don’t have a lot of demonstrations in Lake Forest. Now, I’ll mention that our officers have been involved with our crowd control team in the Chicago area, and that they have gone to demonstrations all over the area. Our residents, however, don’t deal with it a lot, so I think they were significantly affected by that lack of experience. They had more apprehension, I think, maybe, than we did – because we so often have dealt with it, but for them it is the first time. And on paper, what you were seeing at that time were demonstrations that had become riots, and I don’t think the media was doing a great job differentiating the two. Monday and Tuesday during that main week of protests, there were peaceful demonstrations throughout the Chicago area, and you weren’t really reading about them in the paper. What you were seeing on TV were people burning things down, people throwing rocks through windows – you were seeing the worst of what was happening in America, and not the hundreds of demonstrations that went well.

So that is our job: to make sure the organizers, speakers, and listeners had a peaceful event, and everybody went home safe.”

Question: Did the department receive any threats of violence in relation to this event? Did any related incidents end up occurring?

Chief Walldorf: “No, and this is kind of in that same vein of our deep connections with the community. We would have people finding these fringe posts on the edge of social media that they would send to us. Often, those posts had already been shared by detectives all over the Chicago area, and had been discounted as threats already – either before that week, or before our event occurred. The detectives for all these departments are working together and with the state police intelligence network to look at all these postings and determine if they are threats or someone launching off on social media. It was almost always the latter.

All of these posts, probably hundreds, were shared by departments with each other all over the area, and I can’t think of one that ended up being legitimate - that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one, but if there was it was so small that it hasn’t come to my notice in the time since. Intelligence preparation was really what the detectives were focusing on leading up to the event.”

Question: How many police were assigned to patrol the protest/vigil and where did they come from?

Chief Walldorf: “We staffed it with almost all of our sworn officers and civilian employees. They were almost all working the event, even if they may have not all been visible.

We also used part of the NIPAS Mobile Field Force crowd control team in the Chicago area, which is their bicycle response unit. Those were the yellow-shirt-wearing bicycle riders that you saw on the streets that day. Our crowd control team in the Chicago area has numerous parts to it, but the part that is very useful for these low-intensity demonstrations is the bicycle team – it is easy for them to come, they can cover a lot of territory, they work together all the time at peaceful demonstrations or otherwise. They are very experienced so it is easy for them to be used in almost any demonstration anywhere, and they can just work together as a unit. That was the primary outside agency that worked with us.”

Question: Following the scheduled 5-7 pm time slot, how many hours was there additional police patrol on Market Square and downtown LF?

Chief Walldorf: “No more than two hours after the event ended and the square was completely cleared. We didn’t leave until everyone else had gone home, and they stayed for a little while just in case, because once they leave it is harder to get them back. We wanted to make sure, and we knew that both that unit and our officers were on call for other situations in the Chicago area throughout that whole period of time. We didn’t send anyone home right away, but it wasn’t necessarily just because we feared something happening after the event itself, it was also that once even our officers take off their uniforms and drive home, then it takes an hour to get them back, dressed, and deployed wherever they are needed.

We were also prepared to deploy anywhere in town, including other business areas, throughout that whole period of time. That also applied to residential areas, considering that our residents are disproportionately people who are high profile in business, entertainment, or politics, so sometimes I think they are more nervous than the average Chicagoland resident of being specifically targeted even in their homes, and not just their businesses. So there were a lot of concerns out there, and quite frankly we couldn’t address every single individual concern in a town this big, but we really had to be focusing on making sure we had a plan and tools to address any problem, regardless of what it was in town that day or month actually.”

Question: How were the additional police forces and safety work for the event funded?

Chief Walldorf: “There was no doubt some overtime involved. I think the cost compared to some of the other big events we do like the 4th of July event or Lake Forest Days, so there is no doubt it imposed some additional cost on the city, and while we haven’t gone through and put together exactly what it was, but I think it was not particularly excessive and I don’t think most people would be shocked at what it costs for the officers.

For example, many of the officers’ shifts were changed, so there weren’t even that many officers making overtime for this particular event – there were some, no doubt – but many police departments if they know about an incident in advance, they can change some schedules rather than paying overtime for that whole shift. All of the exempt people at the department like myself and the whole management staff don’t get paid overtime no matter what is going on that week. There is not a whole lot of equipment we had to go out and buy, as we already have the equipment for these events. Generally speaking, this was not an expensive event for the department or city to handle.”

Question: We cannot address the protest without talking about the event and issues behind all of it. Being a police chief yourself, what is your reaction to the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis that has sparked this nationwide response that has even permeated Lake Forest?

Chief Walldorf: “Our takeaway here is how important it is to be completely committed to engaging with your community before an event happens and to be as transparent as possible during the event itself. Obviously, Lake County is a much different place than Minneapolis, but I think one of the things that all of the communities in Lake County do very well is reach out to their population well in advance. They spend every minute that they are not working on cases doing some form of community policing. I think that if you are not doing that, then you are not prepared for an event like this. If you don’t have the trust of the community in advance, you’re not going to get it afterward.

One of the challenges we face in doing that is that most of our officers do not grow up here and all but one of them do not live in town, so we work very hard at engaging different segments with the Lake Forest community. We do several events with CROYA, we have SROs in both of the school districts, we work with the seniors since there is a large senior organization in town. We basically will do anything and go anywhere to spend time with the community getting to know us and us getting to know them. If you don’t do that in advance, they just don’t know what to believe when something terrible like that happens. On the opposite hand, if they have spent quite a bit of time with you – they know you, they know your supervisors, they know your officers – it makes it much easier to have these difficult conversations after something horrible happens, and that’s why we spend so much time really diving into the community.

I’d say the biggest thing we do is our Citizens Police Academy, which we’ve been running for 21 years. We have hundreds of residents who have gone through that, and that’s really the best way they can meet us and learn how and why we do what we do. Again, if you haven't had that before something tragic happens, it’s really hard to get that back after.

It’s gonna take years to rebuild public trust in Minneapolis, so you really have to make those connections beforehand, as a big part of the reactions are rooted in how the community members view officers in advance of these incidents.”

Question: How do LFPD officers train, especially for events like these when they are not as common occurrences in town?

Chief Walldorf: “We have two officers on specialized task forces, and the officers work on those task forces whenever related events occur. For example, we have two officers on our major crash team for traffic crashes, and they go out whenever there is a fatal crash in Lake County or when that team trains together. As they do this, they’re building their repertoire for investigating fatal crashes so that when we have one here in town, they are ready because they have already done 30 of them, even though we only may have about one each year. We try to get as many officers involved in those special teams as possible. There is a practical limit to that because we always have some police here in Lake Forest, but that has always been the way that Lake County has worked and it has always worked very well for all of us.”

Question: Does LFPD have any training to prevent racial profiling?

Chief Walldorf: “We tend to do an enormous amount of training here in Lake Forest – probably more than the vast majority of our peers just in terms of hours and days each year spent training. Some departments do as much as they can, some are financially challenged to getting the training they need – we’re very fortunate in that we have the full support of the council and always have to do as much training as we possibly can. Training has always been a big thing in our department., and it has proven very successful in the real world as complaints against our officers, especially when it comes to improper use of force or violations of civil rights, are very rare. However, we are always devoted to seeking out any additional opportunities to improve our training regimen.

In 2017, we became the first department in the area to begin holding training in de-escalation. We flew in a nationally respected instructor from Dallas, and WGN News came to the classes and reported on their content because de-escalation was an emergent concept at the time. We continue to train on this vital subject, as well as civil rights, constitutional use of law enforcement authority, workplace harassment, human rights, procedural justice, use of force, suicide by cop, domestic violence, and sexual assault response. We provide legal training monthly from two different well-respected sources. Each month, officers are also required to prepare and deliver training to their peers, which serves to highlight their mastery of the respective topics. Twice a year we provide more condensed versions of these training sessions to our citizens in the Citizens Police Academy, which all forces our officers to be prepared to deliver the content and answer any question that arises.

We have been sending every officer to Critical Intervention Team training since 2016, which is a week-long school that teaches officers techniques in resolving calls with persons experiencing mental health crises without having to resort to force. Since these calls make up such a disproportionate percentage of cases where force is used by police nationwide, we feel this gives us a significant edge in avoiding or minimizing use of force encounters on the street. We follow this up with regular refresher training on this essential topic.

Lastly, we expand our classroom and online efforts by conducting training in which officers must demonstrate the skills they have learned in live, role-playing scenarios. Using real firearms loaded with plastic paint cartridges, our officers are forced to demonstrate how they would react to a wide variety of real life use-of-force circumstances against trainers simulating citizens. We also use a video judgment system, which forces officers to respond to a large variety of real world pre-recorded scenarios. Both types of training help ensure that when officers encounter challenging situations on the street, they have a broad base of knowledge and experience on which to draw.”

Questions: Does LFPD use body cams? If not, are there plans for body cams to be used in the future?

Chief Walldorf: “We don’t, but we have investigated the technology. We have all the same challenges that many other departments do  – body cams are expensive, you need to have expensive digital storage because you need to store terabytes of footage before too long. You also have to have the IT ability to support it and we have a small IT department.

Those are the three normal challenges, but the law in Illinois actually gave us some additional challenges that many of our officers are uncomfortable with. So when the federal law first passed, we really needed a law in the state. Illinois is kind of a weird state in that it requires two-party consent to record a conversation, and most states don’t. This means that if we were going to have body cams at all as a state we would need to have a law to make it legal for us to record the audio part, as otherwise we could only use the video part.

We were waiting for that law to come out, but when it did it was clearly written by someone who didn’t understand how body cams would be used and what challenges police departments would face in getting them. While we got a law that would make exceptions to the overhear requirement in the state, there is actually a part in the law that would allow some people to request to turn the cameras off at certain times when we really wouldn’t want to, and we would have to comply. We don’t necessarily want body cams that other people can tell us to turn off, because if we are going to get them, then we want the officers to be able to turn them on any time that they go on a call, and leave them on until the end.

The other thing we wanted a little help with and didn’t get help was with the FOIA side of things. We go to a lot of situations that are horrible for the people involved, and we were uncomfortable with the idea that if we were to go to a domestic disturbance at a house where a family is at their worst and people are crying and maybe someone is injured – we did not want to have to give that out to the public to just whoever wanted it. When the law passed, it did not give us that help.

Lastly, one of the things that it would specifically make us do that we are especially uncomfortable with is that it requires us to actually go in and edit the video to blur out faces. This is something that a lot of chiefs are very uncomfortable with because as long as we’ve had video and camera technology, people have accused the police of editing pictures or altering squad car videos to make it look worse for arrestees – even far before the existence of body cams, and now we had a law that was telling police departments to buy software to edit these videos. I don’t even want that software in the station – I want to be able to testify if I’m ever asked under oath that I don’t even have the software or training to edit digital video. The new statute required us to do exactly that. Their answer to the problem of sensitive video was not to withhold it, but blur faces, which doesn’t really help with protecting identity as everyone would know who it is considering the public police blotter. Aside from the time spent editing it, I don’t really want to be editing footage in house.

Those were our problems with body cams off the bat, but I will say that in all of our squad cars we have 360 degree cameras that look in every direction and inside the car toward the arrestee. We take the squad cars to every call, and most of the calls we go on are resolved in front of or in the vicinity of the squad car where we have video and audio recording anyway. So as a practical matter since body cams came out about seven years ago, we haven’t faced a lot of situations in which we’ve wished that we’ve had body cams.

Between the cameras in our cars and everywhere else – now more and more often inside and outside of people’s houses – we usually have the evidence we need without having a body cam system. That being said, I wouldn’t necessarily object to it if I had the money to do it. We have not always had the capital money we would’ve liked to do the projects we’d like to do, and this is one of those projects.”

Question: Does the police blotter include every arrest? What are the rules with it when it comes to minors, etc.

Chief Walldorf: “No, it includes the vast majority of arrests, but in Illinois FOIA Law, there are numerous exceptions to disclosing an arrest. For example, one of them is the safety of the victim, witnesses, or even the offender. If there was a reasonable belief that merely disclosing the arrest itself would endanger any of those three people, it might not be done and there have been incidents in which we didn’t disclose an arrest for that reason. Another exception would be if you’re still in an active investigation. So if we’re doing a burglary investigation and we have three suspects, when we arrest the first one, we are not required to disclose it if it might jeopardize our chances of arresting the second or third one. We might withhold it in that situation entirely, or just until we have arrested the two other suspects – it just depends. There are some other exceptions that are in the FOIA law, and we occasionally apply these exceptions, but the vast majority of arrests are in there.”

Question: Does the LFPD have – and if so will it release – demographic data on arrests and tickets?

Chief Walldorf: “Absolutely – the whole state actually has it. In Illinois for 15 years, the state has been collecting data on racial profiling statistics, and it is all online. The repository for it is kind of an unusual source, it is IDOT (Illinois Deptartment of Transportation). But on their website, they actually have the last 15 years of not just the LFPD’s reports, but every department in Illinois. Since 2004, that’s all been in one place – a statewide report of 15 years of traffic stop data and three years of pedestrian stop data. When it first started, you would see a lot of heavy coverage by the newspapers, but now over the years it has received less coverage – most likely because it is so accessible now that pretty much anyone can Google and find it fairly quickly.”

(LFPD’s Internal Summary spreadsheet comparing year-to-year numbers of the ratio between minority population percentages in the city/state and minority police stop percentages in the city/state via IDOT)

Questions: Have these incidents involving police brutality and its reaction and protest provoked conversations involving LFPD on how to address these issues in the future?

Chief Walldorf: “Sure, and they were even before these incidents. This is a common topic of conversation in our industry – chiefs are constantly talking about how to train better and fine-tune our policies. Those conversations are obviously going to continue, and now it is more in a public sphere whereas that is usually something that only chiefs and trainers are talking about. A normal department policy manual has hundreds of policies, and I think no chief would call theirs perfect, so I think that conversation will continue indefinitely as it is just one of the most important things we do.”

Questions: Are there any reforms and changes to be expected in the police department going forward?

Chief Walldorf: “We update our policy manual every year and there are always changes. We work with a legal service called Lexipol, which actually writes many of our policies for us. We will fine-tune it sometimes to Illinois or Lake County because it is written by a company that is based in Texas, but they write policy for the whole country – they are by far the largest firm in this area. They often suggest changes every year, and we also have to write changes based on Illinois law or sometimes even local Lake Forest ordinance that makes our work environment a little different than everyone else’s in the state. So, we update our policies every year, we review them every year, and we obviously review them now.”