(CHICAGO) -- Federal investigators have determined that the Chicago Police Department has violated the constitutional rights of citizens for years in numerous ways, such as using excessive force, permitting racially discriminatory conduct and shooting individuals who posed no immediate threats, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.
“One of my highest priorities as attorney general has been to ensure that every American enjoys police protection that is lawful, responsive and transparent,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Friday in announcing the findings. “Sadly, our thorough investigation into the Chicago Police Department found that far too many residents of this proud city have not received that kind of policing.”
After a year-long probe into the city’s 12,000-officer police force, which began in December 2015 after the release of a dashcam video of a white officer’s shooting a black teen, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the North District of Illinois released on Friday a scathing 161-page report that details their findings of “systemic deficiencies” in training and accountability that investigators say have led to a pattern or practice of using force in violation of the Constitution.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said “these findings are not new” and should come as no surprise to Chicago residents.
After the report’s release, officials from the Justice Department and the city of Chicago said Friday they have signed an agreement in principle to work together, with community input, to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies uncovered during the investigation. An independent monitor, who has yet to be chosen, will oversee compliance with the consent decree, according to the Justice Department.
“While the Chicago Police Department has made real progress and achieved meaningful reforms, the incidents described in this report are sobering to all of us,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters Friday. “Police misconduct will not be tolerated anywhere in this city and those who break the rules will be held accountable for their actions.”
Here are some highlights from the report:
CPD Uses Deadly Force in Violation of Constitution
According to the report, federal investigators found that the Chicago Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of using force that is unreasonable and unconstitutional, including the following: shooting at fleeing suspects who presented no immediate threat; shooting at vehicles without justification; using less-lethal force, including Tasers, against people who pose no threat; using force to retaliate against and punish individuals; and using excessive force against juveniles.
“This pattern is largely attributable to systemic deficiencies within CPD and the City,” the report stated, citing, among other shortcomings, the department’s historical failure to train its officers in de-escalation and failure to conduct meaningful investigations of uses of force.
For instance, federal investigators observed police academy training on deadly force that consisted of a video made decades ago, which the report said was inconsistent with both current law and the Chicago Police Department’s own policies.
“The impact of this poor training was apparent when we interviewed recruits who recently graduated from the Academy: only one in six recruits we spoke with came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force,” the report stated. “Post-Academy field training is equally flawed.”
The deficiencies in officer training are exacerbated by the lack of adequate supervision provided to officers in the field, the report said.
The Majority of Cases Are Not Investigated
The report found the city of Chicago fails to investigate the majority of cases it is required to by law, including misconduct allegations filed against police officers. The ones that are investigated, “with rare exception, suffer from entrenched investigative deficiencies and biased techniques,” and discipline taken against the accused officers is “haphazard,” “unpredictable” and “does little to deter misconduct,” according to the report.
Federal investigators, who reviewed hundreds of investigative files, found that civilian and officer witnesses – and even the accused officers – are frequently not interviewed during an investigation. The city investigators also frequently failed to collect basic evidence and have allowed union representatives and attorneys to “coach officers in the middle of recorded interviews -- with official protocols actually prohibiting investigators from preventing this, or even referring to it on tape,” the report stated.
The report also detailed a lack of transparency regarding officer misconduct complaints, saying the “complainants themselves are often kept in the dark about the status of their cases” and the city investigators do not provide periodic updates to individuals complaining of officer misconduct.
“Several complainants told us that they were left unaware of what was happening with their complaint for months, or even years – and some never heard back at all,” the report stated.
CPD ‘Tolerated Racially Discriminatory Conduct’
The report called on the city of Chicago to address “serious concerns” about systemic deficiencies within the police department that disproportionately affect black and Latino communities. According to the report, statistics show the Chicago Police Department uses force almost 10 times more often against blacks than against whites.
“CPD’s pattern or practice of unreasonable force and systemic deficiencies fall heaviest on the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago, which are also experiencing higher crime,” the report stated. “As a result, residents in black neighborhoods suffer more of the harms caused by breakdowns in uses of force, training, supervision, accountability and community policing.”
According to the report, the Chicago Police Department “tolerated racially discriminatory conduct” that federal investigators say contributes to its pattern of unreasonable force. Federal investigators reviewed the police department’s complaint database, which showed 980 police misconduct complaints coded as discriminatory verbal abuse on the basis of race or ethnicity from 2011 to March 2016. Just 13 of those complaints, or 1.3 percent, were sustained, generally when there was audio, video or other irrefutable evidence, the report said.
Federal investigators found 354 complaints for the use of the word “n-----“ or one of its variations. Only four, or 1.1 percent, of these complaints were sustained, according to the report.
Federal investigators also found that some officers expressed discriminatory views and intolerance with regard to race, religion, gender and national origin in public social media forums. Meanwhile, the police department failed to take sufficient steps to prevent or appropriately respond to this issue, the report said.
The report urged the city to restore its police-community trust by addressing both discriminatory conduct and the disproportionality of illegal and unconstitutional patterns of force on minority communities.
“We have serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers and the degree to which that conduct is tolerated and in some respects caused by deficiencies in CPD's systems of training, supervision and accountability,” the report stated.
CPD’s Promotions System Viewed as Political and Unfair
According to the report, officers in the Chicago Police Department can be promoted to detective, sergeant or lieutenant based on test scores or evaluation of other merit-based criteria. Legal challenges of discriminatory impact and allegations of improper exam procedures have prompted several significant reforms to the department’s promotions system. However, the report said, federal investigators spoke to officers who continued to express skepticism.
“One of the major complaints from officers we interviewed is that CPD’s promotions system lacks transparency regarding the nomination and qualification process for merit promotions. This has led many officers to believe that merit promotions are a reward for cronyism, rather than a recognition of excellence that was overlooked by the testing process,” the report stated.
“Many of the officers we spoke with — minority and non-minority alike — told us that they feel merit promotions are not truly based on ‘merit,’ but rather the ‘clout’ you hold in the Department or ‘who you know.’”
The report continues: “In reality, there are documented instructions and guidance for merit promotion nominators and decision makers, but this information is not widely known.”
Insufficient Support for Officer Wellness and Safety
The federal investigation found that the acute stress and pressure Chicago police officers face each day weigh heavily on them. For instance, the report found that the rising levels of gun violence in Chicago neighborhoods where the relationship between officers and the communities they serve is strained, making it difficult to police effectively.
“Our investigation found that these stressors can, and do, play out in harmful ways for CPD officers,” the report stated. “CPD deals with officer alcoholism, domestic violence and suicide. And as explained elsewhere in this Report, CPD officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force that is unjustified, disproportionate and otherwise excessive.”
The report continued: “Although the pressure CPD officers are under is by no means an excuse for violating the constitutional rights of the citizens they serve, high levels of unaddressed stress can compromise officer well-being and impact an officer’s demeanor and judgment, which in turn impacts how that officer interacts with the public.”
The report said Chicago officers need greater support from both the police department’s leadership as well as the city, adding that both parties “should think meaningfully about how to better address the stressors” these offices face.
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