The Chicago Police Department has systemically violated the civil rights of residents by routinely using excessive force, a practice that particularly affects African-Americans and Latinos, the Justice Department said in a scathing report released Friday, unveiling the findings of a 13-month investigation into the city’s police department.
The department has engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including deadly force, said Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“This pattern includes, for example, shooting at people who present no immediate threat and Tasing people for not following verbal commands,” Gupta said. “This conduct doesn’t only harm residents, it endangers officers. It results in avoidable deaths, injuries and trauma. And it erodes police-community trust — trust that is the cornerstone of public safety.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who also announced at the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago, detailed steps the city had committed to taking to remedy the problems.
“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 Lynch, who had raced to complete the investigation before the end of President Obama’s term, according to the New York Times.
“With this announcement, we are laying the groundwork for the difficult but necessary work of building a stronger, safer, and more united Chicago for all who call it home,” Lynch said.
Justice Department investigations can be powerful tools for overhauls of the police, and the Obama administration has made expansive use of them amid a wrenching national debate over race and policing.
Chicago is among nearly two dozen cities — including Baltimore, Seattle, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri, — where the Justice Department has pushed for wholesale changes in policing.
By negotiating an agreement with Chicago to fix the problems, the Justice Department has laid the groundwork for change regardless of what happens under President Donald J. Trump, the Times reported.
Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, has said he believes that many of the police department overhauls sought by the Obama administration went too far and unfairly maligned officers. He also has spoken against the court-enforced settlements, known as consent decrees, that usually result from investigations like the one in Chicago.
With the statement announced on Friday, the Justice Department has put the city’s problems on the record and set in motion a process — albeit one that may be less easy to enforce — for change, even if the Trump administration does not seek a consent decree with Chicago.
Lynch said the report set in motion a process that would go forward “regardless of who sits atop the Justice Department,” a statement echoed by Mayor Emanuel, who added that was city was committed to reaching a consent agreement.
Chicago’s announcement came only a day after the Justice Department and city leaders in Baltimore announced an agreement that called for greater oversight of the police department there, as well as improved training and safety technology. The consent decree came in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who died of a spinal cord injury in 2015 while in the custody of the Baltimore police.
Chicago officials have been bracing for the findings from the Justice Department after more than a year of tense public debate about the police and its long, troubled history of community relations, particularly with African-American and Latino residents. Announced in December 2015, the investigation came in a year of cascading violence for the city. Shootings and murders rose significantly. In 2016, there were 762 homicides in Chicago, more than New York City and Los Angeles combined and more than this city has experienced in 20 years.
The inquiry was spurred by the city’s reluctant release of a chilling video that showed a white police officer shooting a young black man, Laquan McDonald, 16 times. For months, the city had fought to keep the dashboard camera footage from being made public, but a judge ultimately ordered its released. Residents were outraged by the images, some marching in protest and demanding that Emanuel resign.
Two years ago, the city announced reparations and an apology to black men who had for years said they were tortured and abused at the hands of a “Midnight Crew” of officers overseen by a notorious police commander in the 1970s and 1980s. Last year, a task force appointed by Emanuel issued a blistering report that concluded that racism had contributed to a long pattern of institutional failures by the police.
“CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color,” the task force wrote. “Stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel — that is what we heard about over and over again.”
As Chicago awaited the Justice Department’s announcement, city officials said that they were already making substantive changes at the department — separate from whatever the Justice Department would announce. Mr. Emanuel’s aides pointed to changes the mayor has called for in improved training and equipment. All Chicago patrol officers are to have body cameras by the end of 2017.
“As you can see from our actions over the past year, we are committed to continuing to make significant and much-needed reforms, providing officers with the tools and certainty they need to do their tough jobs well,” Adam Collins, a spokesman for Emanuel, told the New York Times.