The Justice Department has released findings that show use of excessive force on the part of Chicago police officers, and says in too many incidents, people of color were disproportionately targeted. The report comes a year after the fatal shooting death of LaQuan McDonald, which touched off a firestorm of protest and underscored a disconnect between the city’s residents and its police force.
But it also comes just days before the Justice Department’s chief, Attorney General Loretta Lynch will step down to make way for a successor chosen by President-elect Donald Trump, which is almost certain to be Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Still Lynch did not mince words when she explained her findings at a press conference on Friday.” [The Chicago Police Department] 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,” Lynch said.
Still, recommendations have been made regarding next steps and how they will be implemented. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to a consent decree on executing reforms. At the press conference, he said he would push reforms forward, calling the report “sobering.”
Here are five takeaways (among many) from the report:
- Excessive force by police is out of control in Chicago and that’s taking into account the risk cops face on a daily basis in the street. The report said there is not enough guidance on when and when not to use force against an individual. “CPD officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable,” the report said. “CPD has not provided officers with adequate guidance to understand how and when they may use force…CPD also has failed to hold officers accountable when they use force contrary to CPD policy or otherwise commit misconduct.”
- Some of the people subject to excessive force posed no threat. In the review of hundreds of documents and speaking to various ranks within the department, investigators found a variety of instances when people who had not given cops any reason were handled forcefully when it wasn’t necessary. “We reviewed instances of CPD using less-lethal force, often Tasers, including in drive-stun mode, against people who posed no threat, and using unreasonable retaliatory force and unreasonable force against children.
- Police in Chicago are rarely held accountable for excessive use of force. In 30,000 complaints in the five years before the investigation, about 98 percent of them resulted in no discipline for the officers involved. “We discovered numerous entrenched, systemic policies and practices that undermine police accountability.” The report continued, “In order to address these ignored cases, the City must modify its own policies, and work with the unions to address certain CBA provisions, and in the meantime, it must aggressively investigate all complaints to the extent authorized under these contracts.”
- The “Blue Wall” is real and it prevents separating bad cops from good ones. But outright lying, some cops feel is not that big of an issue. “The City, police officers, and leadership within CPD and its police officer union acknowledge that a code of silence among Chicago police officers exists, extending to lying and affirmative efforts to conceal evidence.” The passage is possibly among the most damning in the report. “…Our investigation found that IPRA (Independent Police Review Authority) and BIA (Bureau of Internal Affairs) treat such efforts to hide evidence as ancillary and unexceptional misconduct, and often do not investigate it, causing officers to believe there is not much to lose if they lie to cover up misconduct.”
- Much of this is because of the lack of training officers receive. There is a long list of areas that must be improved before the other problems can even be addressed in the reforms. This includes ensuring an understanding of current legal parameters for use of force, restructuring the department’s field training program, and evaluation of whether it has the equipment, facilities and staff to implement better training. “Providing robust, meaningful supervision would not only better prevent officer misconduct, it would help CPD better prevent crime in the community. The City and CPD leadership must make the necessary reforms to supervision to protect public and officer safety.”