DoJ report accuses Chicago police of a 'pattern of excessive force'
After a 13-month investigation, a Department of Justice report excoriated the Chicago police for employing a "pattern of excessive force" among other unconstitutional actions.
The blistering 164-page report by the Justice Department, released Friday, put an unwelcome spotlight on Chicago, a city already struggling with a surge in gun violence that has pushed homicide numbers to their highest level in two decades.
The report, and a pledge by city officials to reform the police department, come in the last days of the Obama administration, which has aggressively pursued investigations of abuse by local law enforcement.
On Friday, Chicago leaders said they had promised to negotiate with the federal government an order, enforceable by a judge, that would reform how the police department handles training, accountability and the way officers use force. A similar agreement is in place for the city of Baltimore.
But President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has criticized government lawsuits that force police reforms. And Trump himself has been a staunch defender of police officers, who he has called the “most mistreated people in this country,” and he has said that crime in this country is on the rise and requires a forceful response.
When asked whether the Chicago action would retain its strength under a Trump administration, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday she expected the agreement with Chicago to live on beyond Obama’s term.
“Yes, the top people at the Department of Justice move on, but this agreement is not dependent on one, or two, or three people,” she said.
The report details a grim succession of anecdotes.
The litany of abuses – and the police department's reaction to them – makes shocking reading.
The Chicago Tribune quotes extensively directly from the report:
A man had been walking down a residential street with a friend when officers drove up, shined a light on him, and ordered him to freeze, because he had been fidgeting with his waistband. The man ran. Three officers gave chase and began shooting as they ran. In total, the officers fired 45 rounds, including 28 rifle rounds, toward the man. Several rounds struck the man, killing him. The officers claimed the man fired at them during the pursuit. Officers found no gun on the man.
Video evidence showed the tragic end of a foot pursuit of a man who was not a threat when an officer shot him in the back. The officer, who fired 16 shots, killing the man, claimed on his force report that the man was armed and the man “charged (him) with apparent firearm.” The officer shot the man during the foot pursuit, and dashboard-camera footage showed that as the unarmed man lay on the ground, the officer fired three shots into his back. CPD stripped the officer of his police powers after this shooting — his third that year — and the City paid the man’s family $4.1 million in settlement.
We also found instances in which force was used against children in a retaliatory manner. In one incident, an officer’s neighbor called to report that some boys were playing basketball on the officer’s property. The officer, on duty, left his district to respond and found the teenage boys down the street on their bikes. The officer pointed his gun at them, used profanity, and threatened to put their heads through a wall and to blow up their homes. … The mothers reported the incident to IPRA. The officer, who had not reported the use of force, accepted a finding of “sustained” and received a five-day suspension.
In another case, an officer forcibly handcuffed a 12-year-old Latino boy who was outside riding a bike under his father’s supervision. A plainclothes officer, responding to a report of “two male Hispanics running from” the area, detained the boy. According to the boy and his father, the officer approached the boy, ordered him to stop his bike, forcibly handcuffed him, pulled him off his bike, and placed him up against a fence. … The boy’s father approached the officer, explained that his son was only 12 years old, and asked what was going on. … The officer placed the boy in the back of a police vehicle before eventually releasing him. The officer’s only apparent basis for this detention was the boy’s race, which is constitutionally unreasonable.
Supporting police does not mean supporting them when they are so clearly in the wrong. But there is a flip-side to police misconduct that's a direct result of agitation by Black Lives Matter against all police officers:
Officers are described as lying, as part of a “code of silence” and also in cases where they had little reason to lie, the report states.
But investigators also described an utter absence of morale in the police force, as officers increasingly feel they are adrift and unsupported, and the report describes suicides and suicide threats among officers as “a significant problem.”
Many “officers feel abandoned by the public and often by their own department,” the report states. “We found profoundly low morale nearly every place we went within CPD. Officers generally feel that they are insufficiently trained and supported to do their work effectively.”
This is a problem that starts at the top and permeates the ranks of officers to the lowest levels. Far more so than the Baltimore Police Department, the Chicago P.D. is a dysfunctional mess – the result of incompetent civilian leadership, a failure to supervise officers adequately, and typical Chicago corruption.
Can it be fixed? It will be interesting to see how negotiations between DoJ and the city proceed. With so many problems to address, it is likely that any agreement will be but a Band-Aid that fails to address many of the systemic problems present on the force.