The U.S. Department of Justice has found that the Chicago Police Department violated constitutional rights by engaging in a “pattern or practice of use of excessive force,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Friday.
“The Chicago Police Department does not give its officers the training they need to do their job safely, effectively, and lawfully,” Lynch said. “It does not adequately review use of force incidents to determine whether force was appropriate or lawful, or whether the use of force could have been avoided altogether.”
The highly anticipated report, released just one week before President Barack Obama’s presidency comes to an end, revealed landmark findings about the Chicago Police Department, aimed at eliciting change as the city battles a cloud of distrust as well as spiking violence.
“We found that the Chicago Police Department engages in a pattern and practice of using excessive force, including deadly force and non-deadly force,” said Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s chief of civil rights enforcement. “This pattern includes shooting at people who pose no immediate threat, and tasing people for not following verbal commands.”
The department’s 13 month investigation painted a picture of a police department which was poorly trained, and almost incapable of policing itself.
“This is hard---I’m in law enforcement,” noted U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon. “There is so much about CPD that is great, and worthy of our deepest respect. But no one is above scrutiny.”
DOJ investigators found that Chicago Police officers are not adequately trained in the use of deadly force, do not adequately report when it is used, and that accountability systems are “broken”.
“When investigations do occur they are glacially slow,” said Gupta. “And staffed by overworked and undertrained investigators.”
Indeed, the report notes that while many incidents are inadequately investigated, others are not investigated at all.
“Civilian and officer witnesses, and even the accused officers are frequently not interviewed during an investigation,” the report found. “The questioning of officers is often cursory, and aimed at eliciting favorable statements justifying the officers’ actions, rather than seeking the truth.”
The city has entered into an agreement in principle with the Justice Department, to begin negotiations for a formal consent decree to implement the report’s findings.
“Police misconduct will not be tolerated anywhere in this city, and those who break the rules will be held accountable for their actions,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “At the same time, it is important to recognize that the incidents of misconduct cited in this report do not represent the values of the City of Chicago, and I believe firmly they do not represent the good work of the vast majority of the men and women of the Chicago Police Department.”
Some civil rights advocates are concerned about whether the incoming Trump administration will actively seek to enforce the report’s findings. At his confirmation hearing for attorney general this week, Senator Jeff Sessions said that while he believes officers should be held accountable for their actions, he had concern that an entire department could be defamed over the actions of a few.
“We need to be sure that when we criticize law officers, it is narrowly focused on the right basis for criticism,” Sessions said. “And to smear whole departments, places those officers at greater risk.”
Illinois Senator Richard Durbin said he was concerned that the Trump administration would not share the Obama Justice Department’s passion for police reforms.
“(We have a) new president who actually tweeted, that ‘they ought to be asking for help in Chicago,’” Durbin said. “Well, we’re going to ask, and I hope that Attorney General Sessions, if he’s confirmed, is going to listen.”
Professor Craig Futterman, who researches the Chicago Police Department at the University of Chicago, said he shares those concerns.
“There needs to be a hammer,” Futterman said. “These issues are way too entrenched, the culture is way too entrenched and the issues are way too deep, and the one thing we know is there is not going to be change unless there really is oversight.”
A federal consent decree would carry oversight from a court-appointed monitor. And any decree would be enforceable by contempt citations if the city were to violate any agreements going forward.
Futterman said he was “deadly afraid” that a Sessions Justice Department would not follow through on its obligations to reform the Chicago Police. But he expressed confidence that Justice Department staffers, and the citizens themselves, would hold Chicago accountable.
“It’s the biggest civil rights investigation in history,” he noted. “All of us have to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.”