The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a 164-page report on the Chicago Police Department (CPD) evaluating its use of force, accountability, training and community policing and found that CPD uses excessive force — most often, against minority groups.
The investigation began on Dec. 7, 2015 following scrutiny of CPD’s conduct after the November 2015 release of a video showing an officer shooting Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African-American, 16 times. When CPD made the video public, protests emerged, prosecutors charged the officer involved with murder and CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy resigned.
During the DOJ’s 13-month investigation, the city of Chicago experienced some of the highest crime rates the city has seen in over 15 years with 762 homicides, 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,331 shooting victims.
“CPD does not give its officers the training they need to do their jobs safely, effectively and lawfully,” said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a press conference on Jan. 13.
The DOJ’s report focused on police officers’ use of force. The DOJ reviewed more than 4,000 incidents of non-lethal force, including officers’ own reports from January 2011 to April 2016. About 170 additional cases related to officer-involved shootings were reviewed.
“[CPD] does not adequately review force incidents to determine whether force was appropriate or lawful or whether there the use of force could have been avoided altogether,” Lynch said. “All of these issues are compounded by poor supervision and oversight, leading to low officer morale and an erosion in officer accountability.”
The DOJ concluded that CPD officers sometimes participate in unnecessary foot pursuits that have often led to an officer firing their gun, sometimes at an unarmed individual such as in the case of Laquan McDonald. Officers have also discharged their weapons when not necessary, endangering themselves and public safety and failed to wait for backup.
The investigation also discovered that CPD fails to hold officers accountable when they misuse force that is in violation with CPD policy. When CPD policy calls for officers who misuse force to be relieved from duty, the report found many remain with the department.
In a press release, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said police misconduct would not be tolerated and officers would be held accountable.
“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 — as the report itself cites,” Emanuel said.
In an attempt to tackle the neglectful use of force by officers, CPD implemented a program that would increase the number of officers wearing body cameras in early 2016. Currently, the program is only in use in some areas, but CPD has reported that all officers will be wearing body cameras by the end of 2017.
The DOJ’s report supported the city’s decision to have all officers equipped with body cameras by the end of the year but said proper training for body camera usage needs to be implemented.
Another area where CPD fell short was in training officers and supervisors. The department also does not provide proper supervision of officers in the field, citing many officers as unprepared to police “lawfully and effectively,” according to the report.
An example was within pre-service academy training. When observing training sessions on the use of deadly force, a video was shown that was more than 10 years old and presented information that was inconsistent with current CPD law and policies. During the investigation, graduated recruits from the academy were interviewed and only one out of six came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force.
Emanuel said the city and CPD are working together to better train police officers.
“That is why Superintendent Eddie Johnson and his command team are providing a new approach to leadership, and we are hiring and promoting hundreds of new detectives, sergeants, lieutenants and field training officers to provide management and guidance for the entire department,” he said.
The DOJ’s report also addressed the relationship between the community and the police department, specifically within African American and Latino neighborhoods, which tend to have higher crime rates.
“CPD uses force almost 10 times more often against blacks than against whites,” according to the report.
When talking to community members, the DOJ reported that young African Americans and Latinos are racially profiled by the police. Residents told the DOJ that they are commonly stopped and suspected of criminal activity such as gang involvement, according to the report.
The DOJ is encouraging CPD to focus more on responding to “victims of crime in Chicago’s high-crime neighborhoods and other vulnerable communities.”
Chicago Police Superintendent said he’s disappointed with the DOJ’s report findings and hopes to improve his department, according to a press release.
“As Superintendent, and for anyone who wears the CPD star, some of the findings in the report are difficult to read, and highlights the work we have yet to complete to restore trust between the Department and the communities it serves,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he is already working with the department on improvements.
“Quite simply, as a department, we need to do better,” he said. “And you have my promise and commitment that we will do better. CPD has already taken significant steps to address some of the issues raised in the DOJ report.”