Report says Chicago police violated civil rights for years

DOJ probe: Chicago police's excessive force violated civil rights

Chicago police have violated the constitutional rights of residents for years, permitting racial bias against blacks, using excessive force and shooting people who did not pose immediate threats, the Justice Department announced Friday after a yearlong investigation.

Officers endangered civilians, caused avoidable injuries and deaths and eroded community trust that is "the cornerstone of public safety," said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.

The federal report blamed "systemic deficiencies" within the department and the city, including insufficient training and a failure to hold bad officers accountable for misconduct.

The findings come just days before a change in administration, from a White House that has strongly backed the federal review process to President-elect Donald Trump's, whose commitment to the system is unclear.

The Justice Department began investigating the nation's third-largest police force in December 2015 after the release of dashcam video showing a white officer shooting a black teenager named Laquan McDonald, who was hit 16 times as he walked away from police holding a small folded knife. The video of the 2014 shooting, which the city fought to keep secret, inspired large protests and cost the city's police commissioner his job.

The federal government's recommendations follow an especially bloody year on Chicago streets. The city logged 762 homicides in 2016, the highest tally in 20 years and more than the combined total of the two largest U.S. cities — New York and Los Angeles.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the results of the investigation were "sobering" and pledged to make changes beyond those already adopted. Federal authorities and city officials have signed an agreement that offers a broad outline for reform, including commitments to improved transparency, training and accountability for bad officers. The Justice Department and the city will negotiate a final settlement to be enforced by the courts.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the report lays "the groundwork for the difficult but necessary work of building a stronger, safer, and more united Chicago for all who call it home."

Chicago has spent more than half a billion dollars to settle claims of police misconduct since 2004, but police did not conduct disciplinary investigations in half of those cases, according to the federal report. Of 409 police shootings that happened over a five-year period, police found only two were unjustified.

The Justice Department criticized the city for setting up barriers to getting to the bottom of police misconduct, including provisions in union agreements, a failure to investigate anonymous complaints or those submitted without a supporting affidavit and a "pervasive cover-up culture."

It said witnesses and accused officers were frequently never interviewed at all, that evidence went uncollected and that witnesses were routinely coached by union lawyers — "a dynamic neither we nor our law enforcement experts had seen to nearly such an extent in other agencies."

"The procedures surrounding investigations allow for ample opportunity for collusion among officers and are devoid of any rules prohibiting such coordination," the report said.

When discipline is imposed, according to the report, it's often for behavior that's less serious than what triggered the investigation in the first place.

Police used stun guns on people for no other reason than they did not obey officers' verbal commands, Gupta said, and investigations into misconduct are "glacially slow," with discipline often "unpredictable and ineffective."

She also said officers do not get enough support to help them deal with the trauma of their jobs.

Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department has conducted 25 civil rights investigations of police departments, including in Cleveland, Baltimore and Seattle.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, expressed ambivalence at his confirmation hearing this week about the federal review process. He said he was concerned that broad investigations of police departments risk smearing an entire agency and harming officer morale.

The head of Chicago's police union said the Justice Department hurried the investigation to release its findings before Trump takes office.

In a statement sent minutes before the report was posted online, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo questioned whether the investigation was compromised because of its timing.

The perception that Emanuel badly mishandled the McDonald shooting hurt the former Obama chief of staff politically. The mayor said Friday that the city has already made some of the recommended changes, citing de-escalation training and stricter use-of-force polices.

Emanuel also addressed the Justice Department's conclusion that officers do not have nearly enough supervision. He pointed to his decision to increase the number of lieutenants and other supervisors.

In assembling the 161-page report, investigators reviewed more than 170 shootings involving officers and more the 425 examples of less lethal force. They also spoke with more than 340 officers and accompanied some on patrol, according to the report.

The Chicago department, with 12,000 officers, has long had a reputation for brutality, particularly in minority communities. The most notorious example was Jon Burge, a commander of a detective unit on the South Side. Burge and his men beat, suffocated and used electric shock for decades starting in the 1970s to get black men to confess to crimes they did not commit.

The McDonald video, which showed officer Jason Van Dyke continuing to shoot the teen even after he slumped to the ground, provoked widespread outrage. It was not until the day the video was released, which was more than a year after the shooting, that Van Dyke was charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty. Police reports of the shooting later suggested a possible cover-up by other officers who were at the scene.

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2016, file photo, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson speaks during a news conference in Chicago. The Department of Justice is poised to release its report detailing the extent of civil rights violations committed by

Justice Department Finds Chicago Police Use Excessive Force in Violation of Constitution

Justice Department officials announced Friday that they found the Chicago Police Department engages in an unconstitutional use of excessive force, including deadly force, following a 13-month investigation.

The probe was launched in December 2015, in the wake of the release of a video in which a police officer killed Laquan McDonald , firing 16 shots as the 17-year-old African-American veered away from the officer.

The Justice Department found that the pattern of “unconstitutional force” came as a result of deficiencies within the police department and city government, including inadequate training, said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a news conference in Chicago Friday morning.

“We found that Chicago’s accountability system is broken,” she said, adding that officers were too infrequently held responsible for excessive use of force.

The city and the Justice Department have agreed in principle to negotiate a consent decree with a court-appointed monitor who will oversee the process of reform, officials said.

The Obama administration has repeatedly used investigations like the one in Chicago, known as a patterns and practices investigation, to enforce change in law enforcement agencies. It has opened 25 such investigations since the start of the administration and has issued 15 consent decrees, including in Ferguson, Mo., and this week in Baltimore.

But it is unclear if the Trump administration will pursue the same course. The president-elect’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of such decrees.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, speaking Friday, said that though a “transition is coming in Washington,” the agreement with Chicago “is not dependent on one or two or three people,” but rather career lawyers in the Justice Department, city officials, the community and others who will see the agreement through and implement necessary changes.

The Justice Department investigation into Chicago has been the largest conducted in the agency’s history. After reviewing hundreds of cases and thousands of documents, the Justice Department found that officers routinely engaged in a number of faulty practices, including engaging in unnecessary foot pursuits that often led to shootings of suspects, shooting indiscriminately at vehicles and using police vehicles in an unsafe manner.

In the most egregious cases, officers shot or used their stun guns on suspects who posed no immediate threat to them or the public.

The report also said that the Chicago Police Department investigates crimes in methods that undermine the department’s legitimacy and “may also be unlawful,” including dropping a young person in a rival gang neighborhood as a form of intimidation or displaying the youth to rival members to suggest he has provided information to police.

Officials said the systematic pattern of excessive force within the Chicago Police Department has eroded trust among minority communities, making it harder for the department to effectively solve violent crime.

“Where [a relationship of trust] is broken—as it is in far too many of Chicago’s neighborhoods—it is much harder to solve crimes and reduce violence,” said Ms. Lynch.

The city experienced a dramatic spike in violence last year, with more than 760 people murdered and more than 4,000 shootings. Only 29% of homicides were solved last year, lower than the national clearance rate. Police are implementing a variety of crime-fighting tactics to curb the violence and have promoted a batch of new detectives to address the low rate at which homicides are solved.

Most of the violence has been concentrated in minority neighborhoods, and African-American men have been overwhelmingly the offenders and victims of the shootings. African-Americans make up about 33% of the city.

Justice Department officials acknowledged that the city has been making efforts at reform during the investigation but said that much more can be done.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking at the news conference Friday, highlighted the efforts the city has already taken to reduce instances of excessive use of force, including introducing de-escalation training and equipping all officers with body cameras and stun guns.

“The Chicago Police Department [and] the city of Chicago [are] already on the road to reform, and there are no U-turns on this road,” he said, adding that the behavior cited in the report “does not represent the city of Chicago” but that he appreciates the report’s candor.

The Justice Department’s investigation covered the Chicago force’s recent history, including incidents that happened since Mr. Emanuel’s reforms were enacted. It found that most uses of excessive force were either not investigated or inadequately investigated and that discipline of officers was rare.

“The city received over 30,000 complaints of police misconduct during the five years preceding our investigation, but fewer than 2% were sustained, resulting in no discipline in 98% of these complaints,” according to the report. It called this level “low.”

The report also cited inadequacies in training and data collection that contribute to a lack of effectiveness in policing. It said the city has taken steps to improve all these areas, but more needs to be done.

“Fixing the problems our investigation found will be neither easy nor quick,” the report said. “The root causes of these patterns of conduct and systemic deficiencies are complicated and entrenched.”

As negotiations over the consent decree continues, Mr. Emanuel says he will start implementing recommendations contained in the report, including making investments in training.

A consent decree is usually the result of a monthslong negotiation between a city and Justice Department. In Baltimore, it took five months to reach such a decree. The decree is court-enforced and considered the most effective way to ensure change in a police department.

In addition to a lack of trust between police and the community, the Justice Department found excessively low morale among police, who in many cases “feel abandoned by the public and often by their own department,” according to the report.

“Our investigation indicates that both CPD’s lawfulness and effectiveness can be vastly improved if the city and CPD make the changes necessary to consistently incentivize and reward effective, ethical and active policing,” it said.

Chicago police routinely violated civil rights: U.S. Justice Department

Chicago police routinely violated the civil rights of people in one of America's largest cities, the U.S. Justice Department said in a report released on Friday, citing excessive force, racially discriminatory conduct and a "code of silence" to thwart investigations into police misconduct.

The report said excessive force falls "heaviest on black and Latino communities," with police using force almost 10 times more often against blacks than whites.

The Justice Department began a civil rights investigation in December 2015 after the release under court order of a video showing the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, by white officer Jason Van Dyke. The video was released more than a year after the shooting.

The video sparked several days of protests and led to the ouster of Chicago's police chief and calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.

The McDonald shooting was one of many high-profile incidents that thrust Chicago and other U.S. cities into a national debate over the use of excessive by police against minorities.

"The Department of Justice has concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Chicago Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a news conference.

The 161-page report said use of excessive force by Chicago police included officers shooting at fleeing suspects and using Tasers on children.

Earlier this week Baltimore agreed with the Justice Department to change how officers use force and transport prisoners, almost two years after the death of a black man while in police custody.

Chicago and federal officials have signed an agreement in principle to create a court-enforced consent decree addressing the issues revealed by the probe. Chicago's compliance with the decree would be reviewed by an independent monitor.

The consent decree must be negotiated, then approved by a federal judge.

Emanuel's decision to sign the agreement was reached too quickly, Chicago police union president Dean Angelo, Sr. said in a telephone interview.

Angelo said that he had not read the entire report, but agreed with findings about a lack of training and equipment for officers.

The Justice Department completed the review as confirmation hearings were underway for positions in President-elect Donald Trump's administration, including his nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

"We need to be sure that when we criticize law officers it is narrowly focused on the right basis of criticism," Sessions said during Tuesday's hearing. "To smear whole departments places officers at greater risk, and we are seeing an increase in the murder of law officers up 10 percent last year.”

President Barack Obama's administration opened 25 civil rights investigations into law enforcement agencies as part of efforts to re-examine and improve police practices in the United States, particularly in minority communities.

"Some of the findings in the report are difficult to read," Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at the news conference. “Quite simply, as a department, we need to do better.”

Many of the Chicago police department's problems stemmed from deficient training and accountability, Lynch said.

Investigations into police misconduct were often thwarted by "a code of silence among Chicago police officers ... extending to lying and affirmative efforts to conceal evidence," the report said.

The report also found "profoundly low morale" among many members of the department.

Chicago's mayor, Emanuel, enacted a number of police reforms over the past year, including a body-camera program and a new use of force policy, efforts that were recognized by Lynch.

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