Justice Department report rips Chicago police for excessive force, lax discipline, bad training
A damning U.S. Department of Justice report released Friday morning excoriates the Chicago Police Department for failing to discipline officers who too often resort to force, including shootings.
The failure to effectively investigate officers’ use of force or discipline police “has helped create a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use,” the Justice Department said.
Although the vast majority of the report was critical of the police, it also suggested that officers were victims of a sort – desperate for change but poorly served by a lack of training that often put them
The 164-page report paints a picture of a broken department where officers have disproportionately used force against African-Americans and Hispanics. Officers have rarely faced consequences, as the city’s famously ineffective oversight authorities have done cursory investigations biased in favor of officers, the report states.
In response to the investigation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has agreed to enter a court-enforced pact with the Justice Department on reforms, federal authorities announced. The report lauds some of the changes Emanuel has made to policing in recent months but cautions that further reforms are needed and change is unlikely to last without outside monitoring.
The report is the product of a federal investigation launched more than a year ago amid the fallout over the shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer. As expected, the Justice Department found that the department systematically violates the rights of citizens.
At a morning news conference at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Police Department’s pattern of excessive force “is in no small part the result of severely deficient training procedures and accountability systems.”
“CPD does not give its officers the training they need to do their jobs safely, effectively and lawfully,” Lynch said. “It fails to properly collect and analyze data, including data on misconduct complaints and training deficiencies, and it does not adequately review use-of-force incidents to determine whether force was appropriate or lawful or whether the use of force could’ve been avoided altogether.”
All of these issues have led to “low officer morale and erosion of officer accountability,” she said.
The report found that police routinely use poor practices that result in their resorting to unnecessary force. The Justice Department was particularly critical of foot pursuits by officers, saying they too often end with unarmed individuals being shot, and also found officers shoot at vehicles without justification.
“We found further that officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons and engage in tactics that endanger themselves and public safety, including failing to await backup when they safely could and should; using unsound tactics in approaching vehicles; and using their own vehicles in a manner that is dangerous,” the report said.
It called the city’s disciplinary process “deeply flawed.”
One of the report’s key findings echoes a contention that black and Hispanic Chicagoans have made for decades — that police unfairly target minorities. The report says DOJ investigators had “serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers.”
Statistics cited by the DOJ show that CPD has used force almost 10 times more often against blacks than against whites, and the report focuses particular attention on the department’s failure to responsibly investigate use of force.
The city’s investigators have failed to reconcile clashing accounts of shootings among officers, ignored evidence of misconduct and reached findings based on readings of the facts that were biased toward police.
The report cites a pervasive “code of silence” that leads officers to lie to protect themselves and their colleagues. Disciplinary authorities, in turn, have rarely pressed cases against officers who lied, even when their statements were contradicted by video.
Chicago police must show “communities racked with violence that their police force cares about them and has not abandoned them, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin,” the report states.
“That confidence is broken in many neighborhoods in Chicago,” the report says.
DOJ officials said that Chicago police have shot people who posed no threat and Tasered people who simply didn’t follow verbal commands. The report criticizes use-of-force training at the city’s academy, noting that DOJ investigators observed a training video that had been made decades before and “was inconsistent with both current law and CPD’s own policies.”
Further, when officials spoke to recent graduates from the academy, only one in six “came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force.”
The report’s release marks a landmark for the country’s second-largest local police department and one of the last acts of President Barack Obama‘s Justice Department.
Under Obama, the agency was unusually active in intervening in troubled police departments at a time when police shootings of African-Americans — some recorded on video and shared worldwide — spurred heated protests.
But the report also lands as serious questions loom about the future of police reform in Chicago and nationwide. President-elect Donald Trump has supported aggressive law enforcement, and his nominee for attorney general, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, has criticized consent decrees, a key federal tool for forcing compliance in troubled departments.
Local activists and lawyers have voiced fears that Emanuel’s resolve to change policing will wane if Trump’s Justice Department relaxes its stance, but the mayor has said he’s committed to improving the 12,000-strong police force. During the 13-month investigation, Emanuel pressed changes in line with reforms that federal authorities have tended to seek in other departments: tightening use-of-force policies and stepping up training and discipline.
The report’s release answered a key lingering question as to whether Emanuel would agree to formal court supervision of reforms. In her statement Friday morning, Lynch announced that the city had signed an agreement to work with federal officials on a consent decree, to be filed in federal court. An independent monitor also will be appointed to oversee the process.
Such an agreement is standard but critical in the process to reform police departments, according to policing experts. As recently as Thursday, Emanuel had avoided saying whether the city would enter a consent decree.
As he has started overhauling the department, the mayor has faced criticism from activists and civil rights attorneys, in part because his plans have left much control with City Hall. Emanuel’s reforms remain unfinished, and last week the top department official assigned to oversee departmental reforms quit after six months on the job to become police chief in Oakland, Calif.
The DOJ report includes criticisms of some of the changes Emanuel has made so far. Emanuel has widely expanded the department’s stock of Tasers — devices that deliver a debilitating electrical shock — but the report says the department cycled large numbers of officers through the training program too quickly, “without proper curriculum, staff or equipment.”
“This left many officers who completed the training uncomfortable with how to use Tasers effectively as a less-lethal force option — the very skill the training was supposed to teach,” the report says.
– Photo: U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, from left; Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson hold a news conference Jan. 13, 2017, on the Justice Department’s findings from an investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
The mayor is also contending with rampant gun violence on the South and West sides, which some blame on police scaling back activity to avoid controversies. Chicago had 762 homicides in 2016, the most in two decades.
Fighting violent crime in the city’s most violent neighborhood, the report found, will depend on building trust between police and residents.
“Trust and effectiveness in combating violent crime are inextricably intertwined,” the report found.
The report also confirmed that the department’s police generally suffer low morale, and it states that many officers are hungry for change. Improving morale could lead to more “effective, ethical and active policing,” the report says.
The report closes one chapter of a saga that started with the release of police dashboard camera video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times in October 2014. The city fought for more than a year to avoid releasing the video — even as it agreed to pay $5 million to McDonald’s family before a lawsuit was even filed.
The video’s release in November 2015 sparked furious protests over its graphic images. The department’s handling of the case added to the controversy as several officers gave reports and accounts indicating McDonald had menaced or attacked Van Dyke with a knife. That clashed with the video showing McDonald moving away from officers. In addition, commanding officers promptly signed off on the reports and initially ruled the shooting justified.
Just after the video’s release, Emanuel fired then-police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez lost her bid for re-election last year after criticism for failing to charge Van Dyke with murder until it became clear the video would become public.
McDonald’s death brought cries for policing reform to a head in Chicago, but discontent with the city’s police reaches back decades, particularly among African-Americans, many of whom have had run-ins with police they found to be disrespectful or aggressive.
Lynch announced the investigation into the department in December 2015, but Emanuel jumped ahead of her agency by commissioning his own report from his hand-picked panel, the Police Accountability Task Force. In April that panel released a report accusing the department of racial bias that has hurt African-Americans and calling for reforms in police discipline, among other areas.
Ongoing Department of Justice investigations and enforcement
- Note: There are two ongoing investigations in Orange County, Calif. The DOJ is enforcing two agreements on Maricopa County, Ariz., a consent decree and a post-judgment order. Sources: Department of Justice and Tribune reporting.
Before the McDonald scandal broke, the city had almost never ruled a shooting by an officer unjustified, and Tribune investigations have shown that the city agency responsible for looking into uses of force and alleged police misconduct, the Independent Police Review Authority, has been slow and prone to clearing officers, even in cases in which evidence suggested wrongdoing.
Emanuel moved to abolish the agency, which will be replaced later this year by an office slated to have a bigger staff and a broader mandate to conduct investigations.
The Police Department previously provided little training to officers beyond the academy, but the agency has recently rolled out new instruction on defusing tense situations and dealing with the mentally ill.
Meanwhile, the department is finalizing new use-of-force rules that could limit situations in which officers can shoot people, among other changes. The city plans to equip officers citywide with body cameras by the end of 2017.
The Police Department’s history has been marked by frequent uses of force that stirred public outrage, and the Justice Department’s report cites specific cases, including last summer’s fatal shooting of African-American 18-year-old Paul O’Neal.
O’Neal crashed into multiple police vehicles in a stolen Jaguar convertible in July in the South Shore neighborhood, and harrowing police video shot by dashboard and body cameras showed a chaotic police response rife with apparent tactical blunders. Officers fired repeatedly at the Jaguar as it sped away from them; department policy specifically bans shooting at a car when it is the lone threat, and officers shooting into cars have been a recurring problem for the department.
O’Neal ran from the Jaguar into a backyard, where an officer shot him to death. The officer who fired in the backyard said he thought O’Neal might have been shooting at him from the speeding car, when it was in fact his police colleagues who had been shooting. The officer said he shot at O’Neal despite not knowing whether he was armed or not. O’Neal was unarmed.
Three officers who fired their guns were stripped of their police powers shortly after the shooting, and the city’s investigation is ongoing.
The report also confirms as true a story often told about Chicago police — that they take gang members into rival territory to threaten them into cooperating.
In finding that officers generally use unlawful means to get information, the report found:
“CPD will take a young person to a rival gang neighborhood, and either leave the person there, or display the youth to rival members, immediately putting the life of that young person in jeopardy by suggesting he has provided information to the police. Our investigation indicates that these practices in fact exist and significantly jeopardize CPD’s relationship with the community.”
Department of Justice findings on Chicago Police Department
An investigation commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice in the wake of the fatal Shooting of Laquan McDonald
has found the Chicago Police Department abuses citizens, uses excessive force and treats minorities unfairly.
Read more about the report here.
A two-page “fact sheet” summary of the DOJ’s findings can be read here.
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Justice Department report rips Chicago police for excessive force, lax .
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