U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday the Justice Department has launched a civil "pattern and practice investigation" into the Chicago Police Department to determine whether the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was part of a larger, widespread pattern of officers violating civil rights.
The investigation will focus on the department’s use of force, Lynch said, particularly if there are racial, ethnic or other disparities in officers' use of force, and its systems of accountability.
"When community members feel ignored, let down or mistreated by public safety officials, there are profound consequences to the well-being of their communities," Lynch said, citing recent protests and unrest in Chicago.
"We are looking to see whether or not the police department in a systematic matter has used constitutional practices," Lynch said.
Lynch said the Justice Department fielded weeks of demands for the federal probe spurred by the events surrounding McDonald's death at the hands of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.
Lynch said the investigation will be a wide-ranging examination taking a deeper look at the practices of the police department. As part of the investigation, Lynch's department will gather information directly from police officers and local officials, community members, and other criminal justice stake holders, such as public defenders and prosecutors.
Investigators will observe officer activities through ride-alongs and other means, as well as review documents and specific incidents.
The pattern and practice investigation is "related to" but independent and separate from the investigation into McDonald's death, Lynch said, and will cover "a host of issues."
“Building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve is one of my highest priorities as Attorney General,” Lynch said, adding that the probe's goal was to determine if residents were in the hands of "effective, responsible, respectful and most importantly constitutional [service by Chicago officers] ... to ensure that the people of Chicago have the world-class police department they deserve."
Lynch was joined by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and Zachary Fardon, the U.S. Attorney from Chicago.
”In the coming months, we look forward to engaging directly with all stakeholders in Chicago – including the city's residents, law enforcement officers and public officials – as part of our fact-driven and thorough review," Gupta said.
In response to the additional probe, Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement saying he welcomed the investigation and will "pledge the City's complete cooperation."
"Our mutual goal is to create a stronger, better police department that keeps the community safe while respecting the civil rights of every Chicagoan," Emanuel said. "Nothing is more important to me than the safety and well-being of our residents and ensuring that the men and women of our Police Department have the tools, resources and training they need to be effective crime fighters, stay safe, and build community trust."
Just hours after news of the investigation broke Sunday evening, the head of the agency that investigates police misconduct, Independent Police Review’s Scott Ando resigned, effective immediately, after two years on the job.
Ando will be replaced by Sharon Fairley, a formal federal prosecutor who most recently was first deputy to the city’s inspector general.
Fairley, Mayor Emanuel and Chicago’s new interim Police Supt. John Escalante will be holding a separate news conference Monday at 3 p.m. to discuss the latest turn of events. Emanuel also called for a special meeting of Chicago City Council Monday to be held Wednesday morning, where he will address police reform.