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DOJ Investigation Reveals Pattern of Civil Rights Violations by Chicago Police

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By Kimberly Arsenault
Contributor, EDM Digest

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department and the city's Independent Police Review Authority found the department’s use of force in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The shooting spawned protests in November of 2015. U. S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Justice Department's investigation on December 6, 2015, which was to focus on the department's use of force and its systems of accountability.

The investigation recently concluded after thousands of pages of documents and police reports were reviewed and analyzed, interviews and ride-alongs were conducted, and training policies, procedures, manuals, and materials were thoroughly scrutinized and evaluated. It found CPD systems deficient in several areas. Those areas included how instances of force are investigated, its response to misconduct allegations, officer training and supervision, and the collection and reporting of data on officers’ use of force.

A dashboard video of the incident taken from the police cruiser was not released until 13 months after McDonald was shot 16 times, mostly in the back.

Chicago Police Needlessly Placed Officers in Harm’s Way

The investigation noted that police practices needlessly placed officers in dangerous situations, due to the department’s failure to train its police officers in de-escalation practices.

The findings also revealed that the department lacked officer safety and wellness support. That lack of support contributed to a pattern of unconstitutional force. Community-oriented policing strategies were also found to be lacking.

The investigation expressed strong concerns over officers' conduct that was racially discriminatory, caused in part by systemic deficiencies associated with accountability, supervision and training, the report said.

"The failures we identified in our findings - that we heard about from residents and officers alike - have deeply eroded community trust." ~ Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Vanita Gupta.

Unconstitutional Force Strongest in Latino and Black Neighborhoods

The investigation concluded that the use of unconstitutional force was strongest in neighborhoods that were predominately Latino and black. This use of unnecessary force resulted in the community’s loss of trust in the police.

Justice Department recommendations cited two areas that need to be addressed. The first is the pattern of unconstitutional and illegal force within black, Latino and other minority communities. The second area concerns officers’ discriminatory conduct.

Overall, the Justice Department investigation noted that the CPD remained open to initial feedback and had already begun implementing changes within its department under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Superintendent Eddie Johnson. The changes include:

  • Replacing the Independent Police Review Authority with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability
  • Releasing videos and other materials related to officer misconduct investigations under a new transparency policy
  • Wearing of body cameras
  • Providing an anonymous hotline for employees to report misconduct

"The findings in our report, coupled with the City of Chicago and Police Department's commitment to work together with us, are an historic turning point a major step toward sustained change. Implementing these findings is a necessary precursor to our long-term success in fighting violent crime in Chicago."~ U. S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon, Northern District of Illinois.

Comprehensive reforms are still needed, and an agreement was signed by the city of Chicago and the Justice department to address deficiencies. Community input will also be sought, and the final agreement will be a federal court-enforceable consent decree.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.