(Photo courtesy Shutterstock)

(Photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Justice report finds excessive force, shoddy discipline by Chicago police

CHICAGO — A damning U.S. Department of Justice report released Friday morning excoriates the Chicago Police Department for failing to discipline officers who too often resort to force, including shootings.

The failure to effectively investigate officers’ use of force or discipline police “has helped create a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use,” the Justice Department said.

The 164-page report paints a picture of a broken department where officers have disproportionately used force against African-Americans and Hispanics. Officers have rarely faced consequences, as the city’s famously ineffective oversight authorities have done cursory investigations biased in favor of officers, the report states.

In response to the investigation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has agreed to enter a court-enforced pact with the Justice Department on reforms, federal authorities announced. The report lauds some of the changes Emanuel has made to policing in recent months but cautions that further reforms are needed and change is unlikely to last without outside monitoring.

The report is the product of a federal investigation launched more than a year ago amid the fallout over the shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer. As expected, the Justice Department found that the department systematically violates the rights of citizens.

At a morning news conference at Chicago’s Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Police Department’s pattern of excessive force “is in no small part the result of severely deficient training procedures and accountability systems.”

“CPD does not give its officers the training they need to do their jobs safely, effectively and lawfully,” Lynch said. “It fails to properly collect and analyze data, including data on misconduct complaints and training deficiencies, and it does not adequately review use-of-force incidents to determine whether force was appropriate or lawful or whether the use of force could’ve been avoided altogether.”

All of these issues have led to “low officer morale and erosion of officer accountability,” she said.

One of the report’s key findings echoes a contention black and Hispanic Chicagoans have made for decades – that police unfairly target minorities. The report says DOJ investigators had “serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers.”

Statistics cited by the DOJ show that CPD has used force almost 10 times more often against blacks than against whites, and the report focuses particular attention on the department’s failure to responsibly investigate use of force.

The city’s investigators have failed to reconcile clashing accounts of shootings among officers, ignored evidence of misconduct and reached findings based on readings of the facts that were biased toward police.

The report cites a pervasive “code of silence” that leads officers to lie to protect themselves and their colleagues. Disciplinary authorities, in turn, have rarely pressed cases against officers who lied, even when their statements were contradicted by video.

Chicago police must show “communities racked with violence that their police force cares about them and has not abandoned them, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin,” the report states.

“That confidence is broken in many neighborhoods in Chicago,” the report says.

DOJ officials said that Chicago police have shot people who posed no threat and Tasered people who simply didn’t follow verbal commands. The report criticizes use-of-force training at the city’s academy, noting that DOJ investigators observed a training video that had been made decades before and “was inconsistent with both current law and CPD’s own policies.”

Further, when officials spoke to recent graduates from the academy, only one in six “came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force.”

The report’s release marks a landmark for the country’s second-largest local police department and one of the last acts of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department. Under Obama, the agency was unusually active in intervening in troubled police departments at a time when police shootings of African-Americans — some recorded on video and shared worldwide — spurred heated protests.

But the report also lands as serious questions loom about the future of police reform in Chicago and nationwide. President-elect Donald Trump has supported aggressive law enforcement, and his nominee for attorney general, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, has criticized consent decrees, a key federal tool for forcing compliance in troubled departments.

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