Opinion

DOJ Report Shows CPD Must Police Itself First

Photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

After a 13-month-long investigation, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report that revealed the Chicago Police Department (CPD) violated civil rights and used excessive force on citizens, and it was often specifically aimed at African Americans and Latinos.

“Starting from a young age, black and Latino people … have a vastly different experience with police than do white people,” the report stated. “These negative, often tragic, interactions form the basis of minority communities’ distrust with
the police.”

This isn’t the first time CPD has faced scrutiny for police brutality. Some of the incidents detailed in the DOJ’s 164-page report — which include an officer pointing a gun at teenagers suspected of trespassing and others using a Taser on an
unarmed, naked and mentally ill 65-year-old woman — were appalling, but unsurprising.

For some, the DOJ’s report might have been the final piece of evidence needed to support holding CPD and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel accountable for their actions, rather than brushing these incidents under the rug.

Stomaching the realization of these recurring civil rights violations in our city might have also been deeply troublesome.

Emanuel acknowledged there had already been decades of complaints and past promises of change, but he himself called the report “a moment of truth for the city.”

The report uncovered an issue rooted deep within the department. In order to amend its past difficulties, the department must first turn inward and police itself.

Officers interviewed for the report told the DOJ they don’t feel adequately trained. When complicated situations arise, in which the officers often have only moments to react, they said they don’t know what to do.

Some CPD officers also said they have a “code of silence” among themselves: an officer who doesn’t like how another officer behaves — for example, how that person treats black people — won’t speak up out of fear for how they’d be viewed for
tattling.

Going forward, a change of culture needs to take place within CPD before it can gain any respect from the public.

Of course, it’s important that officers treat the public with respect and dignity. But it’s also important that they take care of their own problems before they try to police Chicagoans.

If CPD officers see something unacceptable or out of line, or if they feel they are not properly trained, they need to feel comfortable informing superiors. Not only does that give the department the ability to correct mistakes as they happen,

but it avoids hurting the victims of police misconduct: Chicago community members.

The report revealed that if an officer shot at someone but CPD didn’t think a bullet hit anyone, the department wouldn’t investigate the shooting; it wouldn’t examine whether the officer was right to fire a gun or if firing was an instance of
excessive force.

In the report, the city was not able to accurately identify how many people were shot by CPD officers. A previous report from January 2011 to January 2016 was labeled “inaccurate and incomplete.”

How can a department correct its mistakes if it only takes a look at some of them? Failure to pursue questionable incidents shows some degree of carelessness within CPD. When issues are not addressed immediately, this sort of carelessness then
disperses throughout the department.

City officials told the press they have already been making changes to the department, and the mayor has requested that the department receive improved officer training and equipment, including having all patrol officers wear body cameras by the end of 2017.

But, body cameras haven’t been as effective and reliable as some have hoped.

We saw this ineffectiveness in August 2016, when CPD released footage from officers’ body cameras after police shot and killed 18-year-old Paul O’Neal.

The officer who shot O’Neal didn’t have his body camera turned on at the time of the incident and the only footage recovered came from other officers’ cameras.

Emanuel said he would negotiate a court-enforced settlement, known as a consent decree, that would bind CPD to any suggested improvements found in the DOJ report.

Consent decrees have the potential to resolve highly controversial issues, but there is no requirement for admitting guilt or liability of a wrongdoing in the resolution.

So, who is to hold the police accountable for what the report uncovered? Who is going to ensure that these supposed strategies are created, implemented, solidified and followed accordingly?

President-elect Donald J. Trump and his Cabinet will begin their work soon, making the plan of action in response to the DOJ report unpredictable after a transition of power.

The man that Trump nominated for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, has spoken out against consent decrees, calling them “dangerous” and saying in 2008 they “constitute an end run around the democratic process.”

Sessions also said he believes lawsuits that can result from consent decrees “undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their (sic) work consistent with fidelity to law and
fairness.”

So, then, how can the public and the law hold liable the officers who do use excessive force and perform unsubstantiated actions, such as shooting unarmed suspects?

These acts themselves, if found unjustified and committed out of race-based hate, are not consistent with constitutional rights and fairness.

As Americans become swept up in the whirlwind of Trump’s inauguration and his first 100 days in office, it will be easy to forget this DOJ report and what it uncovered for CPD and policing as a whole in the U.S.

Still, we must keep CPD’s injustices and shortcomings under the spotlight to avoid a war between this country’s citizens, its law enforcement and its government.

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