Chicago’s police department has been under scrutiny for years. Allegations of corruption, use of excessive force, and other abuses have plagued the CPD. And a new report by the Justice Department, released on Friday, adds fuel to the fire of accusations.
According to the Justice Department report, Chicago’s law enforcement has been guilty of failing to uphold the law. Racism and violence stand out in the forefront of the CDP’s misuses of power. And the report details paint a bleak picture of the institution of law enforcement in a city long known for corruption.
This information, long suspected by experts, is an official documentation of the struggles the city faces. And it comes at a time when the police aren’t only struggling within their ranks, but against a massive wave of city violence. The murder rate for 2016 broke the records from the past twenty years.
The 161-page report detailed incidents that seem to have a few disturbing factors in common—police aggressions that far exceed situational necessities, mainly impacted African-Americans and Latinos, and were ignored or forgiven by supervisors. A commanding officer interviewed in the Justice Department report stated that, to his knowledge, he had never suggested an officer’s use of force bore further investigation.
Calls for Change at the End of an Administration
The Justice Department did not limit its scrutiny to the city of Chicago. Over two dozen cities—including Ferguson, Seattle, and Cleveland—have been at the receiving end of the Justice Department’s pushes for major changes in policing.
This report comes in under the wire, part of a last impetus by Justice Department to complete the task before President Obama’s term expires. Under his leadership, the federal government has completed a number of other investigations. But it’s possible that under the new presidential administration, the report findings will not lead to much change.
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, stated his belief that the approach of the previous administration was overkill, placing too much responsibility for the situation on the shoulder of police officers. Senator Sessions is also against “consent decrees,” the settlements enforced by courts which often result from such investigations the one in Chicago.
But even with an uncertain outcome, because of the Justice Department’s expediency in releasing this report, Chicago’s police issues are now on record and negotiations for a linked consent decree have begun.
According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city is steadfast in its desire to make amends for its faults and greatly improve the status quo for the future.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch presented the report, at Chicago’s federal courthouse, together with Mayor Emanuel. The mayor highlighted the city’s actions toward progress.
Attorney General Lynch described the thousands of documents, thorough interviews, and discovery of evidence that led to the Justice Department’s conclusion: the Chicago Police Department is in desperate need of reform. Per report findings, the city fails to properly train its officers, does not assemble or scrutinize data with accuracy, and has very little community support.
“The systems and policies that fail ordinary citizens also fail the vast majority of Chicago Police Department officers who risk their lives every day to serve and protect the people of Chicago,” said Ms. Lynch.
Mayor Emanuel expressed his understanding that years and decades of grievances, followed by empty promises for change, have been something the City has never truly overcome. But in hopes of breaking that sad and ultimately violent cycle, he is publicly embracing “a moment of truth for the city.”
“It’s right to say, with a slightly skeptical eye, ‘What makes us believe you’re going to be sincere in following through?’”
The mayor, currently in his second term, has been under an onslaught of criticism over the mounting violence and a police department the public has grown wary of. Moving forward with big institutional changes has the potential to relieve some of that criticism.
Lack of Oversight and Excess of Force
The police department suffers from insufficient oversight from higher-ups. Reports of officers engaging in unnecessary violence were rampant.
“We found that officers engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, and that these foot pursuits too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone — including unarmed individuals,” the report reads. “We found that officers shoot at vehicles without justification and in contradiction to C.P.D. policy. We found further that officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons and engage in tactics that endanger themselves and public safety, including failing to await backup when they safely could and should; using unsound tactics in approaching vehicles; and using their own vehicles in a manner that is dangerous.”
In a somewhat emotional response to the findings, Chicago’s police superintendent Eddie Johnson described them as “difficult to read.” He elaborated on his hopes to expand training and mentoring for CPD officers, saying, “While I’m optimistic and hopeful about the direction that we’re heading in,” Mr. Johnson said, “I’m realistic about the fact that there is much, much, much more work that needs to be done.”
Report Validity Questioned by Unions
The police unions aren’t falling in line in a rush to accept the findings and change the system, voicing their concerns in an official statement which read, “What also remains to be seen is whether or not the report might be considered compromised, or incomplete as a result of rushing to get it out before the presidential inauguration.”
But the public consensus appears to be in favor of reforms. A major wake-up call came from the police shooting and murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, in 2014, with dashcam footage of officers opening fire on a teenaged boy as he walked away from them.
Michael Schmiege, a top civil rights and defense attorney in the city of Chicago, shared his thoughts on the new report, saying, “I don’t think we should be throwing police under the bus here, but this report is based on facts and data, not emotion. Part of my work is in defending the constitutional rights of those who have been victimized by officers abusing the system. Based on my professional experience, I believe we should be taking a hard look at the way our law enforcement is trained to operate, and the way the department is run from above.”
If you’ve been victimized by Chicago police, are under investigation for a crime, or are facing unfair charges, Attorney Schmiege is your best advocate in the courtroom. Call his law offices today for a consultation.