The Justice Department has exposed years of civil rights violations by Chicago police, blasting the nation’s third-largest department for using excessive force that included shooting at people who did not pose a threat and using stun guns on others only because they refused to follow commands. The report was issued after a yearlong investigation sparked by the 2014 death of a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a white officer. The federal investigation looked broadly at law enforcement practices, concluding that officers were not sufficiently trained or supported and that many of those who were accused of misconduct were rarely investigated or disciplined.
You May Also Like To Watch This:
The findings come just a week before a change in administration that could reorder priorities at the Justice Department. Under President Barack Obama, the government has conducted 25 civil rights investigations of police departments, including those in Cleveland, Baltimore and Seattle. President-elect Donald Trump’s position on the federal review process is unclear. His nominee to be attorney general has expressed ambivalence about the system. Chicago officers endangered civilians, caused avoidable injuries and deaths and eroded community trust that is “the cornerstone of public safety,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said yesterday.
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 US cities New York and Los Angeles. The Justice Department began the Chicago investigation in December 2015 after the release of dashcam video showing the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was walking away from police holding a small folded knife. The video of the shooting, which the city fought to keep secret, inspired large protests and cost the city’s police commissioner his job.
The report “confirms what civil rights lawyers have been saying for decades,” said attorney Matt Topic, who helped lead the legal fight for the release of the McDonald video. “It is momentous and pretty rewarding to see that finally confirmed by the US government.” Investigators described one class for officers on the use of force that showed a video made 35 years ago before key US Supreme Court rulings that affected police practices nationwide. When instructors spoke further on the topic, several recruits did not appear to be paying attention and at least one was sleeping, the report said.
Justice Department agents who questioned Chicago officers found that only 1 out of 6 who were in training or who just completed the police academy “came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force,” the report said. 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.