Chicago po­lice force is overly ag­gres­sive, scathing re­port finds

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - By Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith

CHICAGO >> A blis­ter­ing re­port by the Jus­tice Depart­ment de­scribed far-reach­ing fail­ures through­out the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment, say­ing ex­ces­sive force was ram­pant, rarely chal­lenged and chiefly aimed at African-Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos.

The re­port, un­veiled Fri­day af­ter a 13-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion, forced a pub­lic reck­on­ing for a po­lice depart­ment with a legacy of cor­rup­tion and abuse. It came as the depart­ment grap­ples with sky­rock­et­ing vi­o­lence in Chicago, where mur­ders are at a 20-year high, and a deep lack of trust among the city’s res­i­dents.

Over 161 pages the in­ves­ti­ga­tion laid out, in chill­ing de­tail, unchecked ag­gres­sions: an of­fi­cer point­ing a gun at teenagers on bi­cy­cles sus­pected of tres­pass­ing; of­fi­cers us­ing a Taser on an un­armed, naked 65-year-old woman with men­tal ill­ness; of­fi­cers pur­posely drop­ping off young gang mem­bers in ri­val ter­ri­tory.

The depart­ment’s mis­steps go well be­yond the of­fi­cers on pa­trol, the re­port said. Af­ter of­fi­cers used ex­ces­sive force, their ac­tions were prac­ti­cally con­doned by su­per­vi­sors, who rarely ques­tion their be­hav­ior. One com­man­der in­ter­viewed by the Jus­tice Depart­ment said that he could not re­call ever sug­gest­ing that of­fi­cers’ use of force be in­ves­ti­gated fur­ther.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is the lat­est of a po­lice depart­ment by the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which had rushed to com­plete its find­ings in both Chicago and Bal­ti­more be­fore the ex­pi­ra­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s term. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has made ex­pan­sive use of in­ves­ti­ga­tions amid a wrench­ing na­tional de­bate over race and polic­ing. Chicago is among nearly two dozen cities — in­clud­ing Cleve­land; Fer­gu­son, Mo.; and Seat­tle — where the Jus­tice Depart­ment has pushed for whole­sale changes to po­lice prac­tices.

But un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, the en­force­ment of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s agree­ment with Chicago of­fi­cials is un­cer­tain. Trump’s at­tor­ney gen­eral nom­i­nee, Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama, has said he be­lieves the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tac­tics have gone too far and un­fairly ma­ligned of­fi­cers. He has also spo­ken against the court-en­forced set­tle­ments, known as con­sent de­crees, that usu­ally re­sult from in­ves­ti­ga­tions like the one in Chicago.

With its re­port, the Jus­tice Depart­ment put the city’s prob­lems on the record and set in mo­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions on a con­sent de­cree, a process that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion could em­brace or aban­don. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said city of­fi­cials were com­mit­ted to cor­rect­ing the faults found by in­ves­ti­ga­tors and would pur­sue a con­sent de­cree re­gard­less of who is lead­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta E. Lynch pre­sented the re­port at the fed­eral court­house in down­town Chicago, along­side Emanuel, who laid out the steps the city had com­mit­ted to take to rem­edy the prob­lems, and Zachary T. Far­don, U.S. at­tor­ney for the North­ern Dis­trict of Illi­nois.

Lynch said the Jus­tice Depart­ment had re­viewed thou­sands of doc­u­ments, con­ducted ex­ten­sive in­ter­views and dis­cov­ered wide­spread ev­i­dence that the Po­lice Depart­ment was sorely in need of re­form. It does not train of­fi­cers prop­erly, fails to prop­erly col­lect and an­a­lyze data, and has lit­tle sup­port from the com­mu­nity, the re­port said.

“The sys­tems and poli­cies that fail or­di­nary cit­i­zens also fail the vast ma­jor­ity of Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment of­fi­cers who risk their lives ev­ery day to serve and pro­tect the peo­ple of Chicago,” Lynch said.

Emanuel ac­knowl­edged there had al­ready been decades of com­plaints and past pledges for change, but he called the re­port “a mo­ment of truth for the city.”

The re­port de­scribed a broad lack of over­sight within the depart­ment. In some cases, of­fi­cers re­ported that they had used force such as punch­ing in or­der to re­strain com­bat­ive sus­pects, but video ev­i­dence re­viewed by in­ves­ti­ga­tors fre­quently showed that use of force was un­nec­es­sary.

“We found that of­fi­cers en­gage in tac­ti­cally un­sound and un­nec­es­sary foot pur­suits, and that these foot pur­suits too of­ten end with of­fi­cers un­rea­son­ably shoot­ing some­one — in­clud­ing un­armed in­di­vid­u­als,” the re­port said. “We found that of­fi­cers shoot at ve­hi­cles with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and in con­tra­dic­tion to CPD pol­icy. 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.”

Chicago’s po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent, Ed­die John­son, said that some find­ings were “dif­fi­cult to read” and that he wanted to ex­pand train­ing and men­tor­ing for of­fi­cers. “While I’m op­ti­mistic and hope­ful about the di­rec­tion that we’re head­ing in,” John­son said, “I’m re­al­is­tic about the fact that there is much, much, much more work that needs to be done.”

Lead­ers of the union that rep­re­sents rank-and-file of­fi­cers ques­tioned the tim­ing of the re­port and the speed with which the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­ducted.

“What also re­mains to be seen is whether or not the re­port might be con­sid­ered com­pro­mised, or in­com­plete as a re­sult of rush­ing to get it out be­fore the pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion,” the union said in a state­ment.

Sev­eral ac­tivists said the find­ings were un­sur­pris­ing but wel­come. They urged sweep­ing re­forms to the Po­lice Depart­ment but ex­pressed lit­tle con­fi­dence that they would take place.

“The de­ci­sion that DOJ made to­day, I said it a long time ago: That the sys­tem is cor­rupt,” said Dorothy Holmes, whose son was killed by a Chicago of­fi­cer in 2014. “We want ac­count­abil­ity. We want these of­fi­cers charged as crim­i­nals, as they would charge one of us with some­thing.”

The in­quiry was spurred by the city’s re­luc­tant re­lease of a chill­ing video in 2015 — more than a year af­ter it was filmed — that showed a white po­lice of­fi­cer shoot­ing a young black man, Laquan McDon­ald, 16 times.


Fri­day’s Jus­tice Depart­ment re­port laid out mis­steps not just by Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers, but by their su­per­vi­sors as well. Above, po­lice of­fi­cers watch as de­mon­stra­tors walk through the Loop in down­town Chicago dur­ing protests against Chicago po­lice tac­tics.

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