DOJ Report Blasts Chicago Police for Excessive Force, Bad Training

In perhaps the most damning, sweeping critique ever of the Chicago Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded Friday that the city’s police officers are poorly trained and quick to turn to excessive and even deadly force, most often against blacks and Latino residents, without facing consequences.

The 164-page report, the product of more than a year of investigation, paints the picture of a department flawed from top to bottom, although many of the problems it cites have, for decades, been the subject of complaints from citizens, lawsuits by attorneys and investigations by news organizations.

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As such, the report is an indictment of sorts of city officials who, the report said, have paid lip service to the community’s complaints as well as the need for reform of the Police Department and the various city agencies responsible for its oversight.

Taken together, the Chicago Police Department’s flaws have “helped create a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use,” the Justice Department said in its report, made public Friday by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

In response to the federal investigation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to enter a court-enforced agreement with the Justice Department on a wide range of reforms, Lynch and other officials announced. While the report lauds some of the changes Emanuel has made to policing in recent months, it cautions that further reforms are needed and that real change is unlikely to last without outside monitoring.

What’s more, the report takes Emanuel to task for his efforts to get ahead of the report, saying some efforts have been insufficient.

For his part, the mayor continued to voice his backing of the federal investigation while at the same time insisting the report’s findings of systemic problems don’t portray most cops.

“The incidents described in this report are sobering to all of us,” he said. “Police misconduct will not be tolerated anywhere in the city of Chicago, and those who break the rules will be held accountable for their actions. Misconduct not only harms the individuals affected, it damages the reputation of the Chicago Police Department.

“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, I said it earlier, who put their lives on the line every day.”

At a news conference, Lynch said the department’s pattern of excessive force “is in no small part the result of severely deficient training procedures and accountability systems.”

“CPD does not give its officers the training they need to do their jobs safely, effectively and lawfully,” Lynch said. “It fails to properly collect and analyze data, including data on misconduct complaints and training deficiencies, and it does not adequately review use-of-force incidents to determine whether force was appropriate or lawful or whether the use of force could’ve been avoided altogether.”

All of these issues, she said, have led to “low officer morale and erosion of officer accountability.”

The investigation was launched after the court-ordered release of a video showing a white police officer shoot black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. The incident became a flashpoint in police-community relations after Emanuel and city officials worked to keep the video from the public for about a year.

In its findings, the Justice Department was particularly critical of foot pursuits by officers — the subject of a recent Tribune investigation. The report said the foot chases too often end with unarmed individuals being shot. The Justice Department also faulted officers for shooting at vehicles without justification.

The report hammered hard at how officers fail to de-escalate tense situations, often resulting in shootings that were avoidable and unnecessarily endangered officers as well. The Justice Department ripped officials responsible for investigating police shootings and other uses of force for failing to hold officers accountable or issue meaningful discipline.

The report cited a pervasive “code of silence” that leads officers to lie to protect themselves and colleagues. Disciplinary authorities, in turn, have rarely brought cases against officers who lied, even when their statements were contradicted by video, while officers are almost never held accountable for even the worst shootings, it found.

Although the vast majority of the report was critical of the police, it also suggested that officers were victims of a sort — desperate for change but poorly served by a lack of training that often put them in harm’s way. Continue Reading

Article Org: chicagotribune.com

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