The Chicago Police Department has “engaged in a pattern or practice of unreasonable force,” violating the civil rights of citizens by unnecessarily shooting at suspects and failing to adequately investigate or punish officers who break the law, the Justice Department announced Friday.
Speaking at a press conference in Chicago with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson present, outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the city’s police officers unnecessarily escalate situations, leading to incidents that endanger both cops and civilians.
“One of my highest priorities as attorney general has been to ensure that every American enjoys police protection that is lawful, responsive, and transparent,” Lynch said in a statement announcing the findings. “Sadly, our thorough investigation into the Chicago Police Department found that far too many residents of this proud city have not received that kind of policing.”
The press conference coincided with the release of a lengthy DOJ report about misconduct and civil rights violations by Chicago’s 12,000-officer police force, the second-largest in the United States.
With regard to unlawful use of force, the DOJ report found that Chicago cops:
- Shot at fleeing suspects “who presented no immediate threat.”
- Shot at vehicles “without justification.”
- Used Tasers and other types of “less-lethal force” against “people who pose no threat.”
- Used force to “retaliate against and punish individuals.”
- Used “excessive force” against juveniles.
- Employed tactics that “unnecessarily endanger officers and result in avoidable shootings.”
The investigation was prompted by the October 2014 fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African-American teenager. The shooting was initially found to be justified, but footage of the incident that was made public in November 2015 showed a white police officer firing repeatedly at McDonald as he walked away from police. The video sparked outrage, protests, and calls for reform, and led to murder charges against Jason Van Dyke, the officer responsible.
The Justice Department said in the report released Friday that Chicago police fail to “fully document and meaningfully review officers’ use of force” and that officers who break the rules are rarely held accountable.
With regard to police accountability, the investigation found that the city:
- Routinely “fails to investigate the majority of cases it is required to investigate by law.”
- When it does investigate, “the questioning of officers is aimed at eliciting information favorable to the officer, and investigators do not confront officers with inconsistent physical evidence.”
- The city “does not take sufficient steps to secure accurate and complete witness statements, including preventing officers from concealing misconduct.”
- Discipline of officers is “haphazard, unpredictable, and does not deter misconduct.”
Mayor Emanuel has already overhauled the city’s police oversight body and outfitted officers body cameras. The DOJ also said it’s clear that the city and police department are “committed to reform.”
The city and DOJ have already signed an agreement to enact further reforms and plan to sign a consent decree that will set legally-binding guidelines on how to proceed.
The fate of any agreement will be in limbo, however, since the Justice Department will likely soon by led by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general. Sessions has criticized consent decrees as “exercises of raw power” that “constitute an end run around the democratic process.”
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department has investigated 25 police departments in major cities across the country, including Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami, and Seattle. On Thursday, Baltimore became the 12th law enforcement agency to enter a consent decree with the DOJ.
Read the DOJ’s full report below.