POLITICS
01/13/2017 11:06 am ET Updated Jan 13, 2017

Chicago Police Routinely Violate Civil Rights, Withering Justice Department Probe Finds

It's the largest municipal police department to ever come under DOJ investigation.

CHICAGO ― The Chicago Police Department regularly violates citizens’ civil rights, routinely fails to hold officers accountable for misconduct and poorly trained officers at all levels, according to a sweeping Justice Department probe of the nation’s second-largest police department.

The report examined not just the on-the-street actions of the police department, but its institutional practices like training, accountability and discipline: The city’s police shot at fleeing suspects who posed no immediate threat, failed to accurately document and review when officers used force and relied on training that is decades out of date.  

The findings echo those of an April 2016 report released by Chicago’s then-new Police Accountability Task Force, which emphasized that the police department must face a “painful but necessary reckoning” that includes acknowledging its racist history and its consequent legacy of corruption and mistrust ― particularly between the department and the minority communities it polices.

The DOJ also announced on Friday that it had reached an agreement with the city of Chicago to work on creating a court-enforceable plan to reform the department and address the issues aired in the report.

Read more: These are the most damning parts of the DOJ’s report on CPD.

Justice Department “pattern-or-practice” investigations do not focus on individual incidents, but rather on systemic police misconduct. Federal officials had been scrambling to complete the report before the President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated next week. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who will likely be confirmed at the 84th U.S. attorney general, is skeptical of DOJ’s police investigations, which were used extensively in the Obama administration.

A portion of Laquan McDonald's autopsy report shows the black teenager, killed by a Chicago police officer, was shot 16 times
Cook County Medical Examiner
A portion of Laquan McDonald's autopsy report shows the black teenager, killed by a Chicago police officer, was shot 16 times. McDonald was walking away from police as he was shot. 

The DOJ report concluded a nearly 14-month investigation that was prompted by the November 2015 release of a dashcam video showing a police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times as he walked away from officers.

The video showing Laquan McDonald’s death, which occurred in 2014, triggered protests of both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked police chief. The police were accused of keeping the video under wraps for more than a year at the behest of City Hall until Emanuel was successfully re-elected.

Emanuel ultimately fired the city’s top cop, Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez lost her re-election bid the following year. Alvarez’s office was accused of favoring the police after waiting more than 13 months to bring murder charges against the white police officer who killed McDonald.

The report comes after a bruising year for the Chicago police and a violent one for the city: More than 750 people were killed last year. Meanwhile, CPD solved fewer than one-third of all murders — less than half the national average.

Allegations of abuse, torture and corruption have dogged the CPD for nearly a century. The department was at the center of high-profile incidents like the violent clashes with anti-Vietnam War protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the 1969 killing of noted Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the era of torture under former Police Commander Jon Burge.

In more recent years, officers have come under scrutiny for the fatal shootings of unarmed black citizens in Chicago ― including Rekia Boyd, who was shot by an off-duty officer. 

The misconduct and various civil rights violations have cost the city’s taxpayers millions over the decades. Since 2004 alone, Chicago has spent about $662 million on police misconduct, which includes settlements, judgments and legal fees, according to The Associated Press; settlements and other fees from the Burge-era cases alone tallied roughly $100 million.

Kim Bellware reported from Chicago. Ryan J. Reilly reported from Washington.

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