Chicago police beset by racial bias, unconstitutional policing, DOJ finds

CHICAGO - The Justice Department has concluded that the Chicago Police Department is beset by widespread racial bias, poor training and feckless oversight of officers accused of misconduct.

The finding issued Friday came as the Justice Department and the city of Chicago issued “a statement of agreement” detailing remedies to improve policing in the nation’s third-largest city and repair a shattered public trust.

The Justice Department rushed to conclude its 13-month-long investigation as President Obama prepares to leave office next week, and President-elect Donald Trump — who has vowed to lead a more police-friendly administration — is set to take the reins.

It’s unclear what, if any, action the Trump administration will take to follow up on the findings of the probe.

Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, expressed concerns during his Senate confirmation hearing this week that federal litigation against police departments “can undermine respect for police officers.” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Sessions, in private conversations, declined to commit to following through on recommendations in the report.

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The probe in Chicago was launched in December 2015 following the court-ordered release of chilling video that showed a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, fire 16 shots at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald as he appeared to be running away from police during a pursuit.

The video — and the city’s decision to pitch a legal battle to keep it out of public view — as well as the fact that it took 400 days for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to file murder charges against Van Dyke lead to widespread public outrage and weeks of protests in Chicago.

Even before the McDonald case, the police department’s image had been tarnished in the African-American community by allegations of cops torturing and beating suspects and carrying out a disproportionate number of street stops of African-American and Latino men.

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Police brutality cases cost the city more than $500 million in settlements and legal costs from 2004 to 2014. In 2015, Emanuel announced a $5.5 million reparations package to victims of former police commander Jon Burge, who from the early 1970s to early 1990s was accused of overseeing the torture and beating of dozens of mostly African-American suspects.

Emanuel initially resisted calls for a Justice probe of the city’s police department, but later relented. After the fallout following the release of the McDonald video, Emanuel apologized for the city’s handling of the situation, and vowed to improve transparency and restore the public trust.

He convened a Police Accountability Task Force, which in April issued a report that called on the department to "acknowledge its racist history and overhaul its handling of excessive force allegations." The task force also recommended more than 100 reforms.

Emanuel and the city council have embraced several of the task force’s recommendations — including launching mandatory training for officers on de-escalating volatile situations, requiring 40 hours of mental health training for police officers and making it city policy to release all video of police-involved shootings within 60 to 90 days of an incident.

During Obama’s eight years in office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Office conducted 25 pattern-or-practice investigations of police departments throughout the country.

On Thursday, the Justice Department and the city of Baltimore announced they agreed to terms of consent decree, a court-monitored agreement that mandates the city implement a series of reforms of the city’s police department.

The Justice Department found widespread issues with unconstitutional policing in Baltimore after it opened a probe there following the controversial death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man whose death while in Baltimore Police Department custody spurred violent protests in the city.

USA TODAY


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