DOJ: Chicago PD Uses Excessive Force in Communities of Color

By Kenrya Rankin Jan 13, 2017

In December 2015, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) to determine if the city’s law enforcement officers violate the Constitution or federal law. Today (January 13), the agency’s Civil Rights Division announced that the department routinely uses excessive force when interacting with citizens.

“For the past 13 months, our investigators have worked tirelessly to get a full, accurate and impartial picture of policing in Chicago. They conducted hundreds of interviews with citizens, officials and officers; reviewed thousands of pages of documents; and observed CPD officers on the job,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a press conference today. “On the basis of this exhaustive review, the Department of Justice has concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Chicago Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.”

The findings were released today via a 164-page report. Per a two-page summary, the DOJ and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois concluded that the department’s pattern or practice includes:

  • 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
  • Using excessive force against juveniles
  • Failing to effectively de-escalate situations or to use crisis intervention techniques to reduce the need for force
  • Employing tactics that unnecessarily endanger officers and result in avoidable shootings and other uses of force
  • Failing to accurately document and meaningfully review officers’ use of force

The investigation included visits to each of the city’s 22 police districts, 60 ride-alongs with officers, 340 interviews of CPD staff and meeting with more than 90 community organizations. It was initiating following the release of dashcam video that showed then-officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times—and contradicted officer claims that the Black teen posed a deadly threat. Citizens protested, calling for the DOJ to intervene.

The Justice Department also confirmed what many Chicagoans already knew: the city has a race problem. From the report:

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. Raw statistics show that CPD uses force almost ten times more often against Blacks than against Whites. 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.

These findings are in line with the Police Accountability Task Force’s April 2015 report that uncovered a long history of racism in the CPD. At the press conference, Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, attributed the failings to deficiencies at both the department- and the city-level, saying:

We found that CPD does not adequately train its officers to use the appropriate amount of force. For example, we observed training on deadly force that used a video made decades ago, with guidance inconsistent with both current law and internal policy.

We found that CPD officers do not fully report their uses of force and that supervisors do not appropriately review these uses of force.

We found that Chicago’s accountability systems are broken. Many complaints that should be investigated are not. When investigations do occur, they are glacially slow and staffed by overworked and undertrained investigators who often fail to obtain basic witness statements and evidence. Officers are rarely held accountable for misconduct, and when they are, discipline is unpredictable and ineffective.

We found that CPD’s approach to data collection on the use of force prevents CPD from spotting dangerous trends, responding with remedial training or sharing useful information with the public.

We found that CPD’s promotion systems are not transparent.

And we found that CPD fails to provide officers with the support they need to deal with the stress and trauma of their jobs.

The DOJ and the Chicago have committed to negotiating a consent decree—like Baltimore, Ferguson, Newark and Cleveland before it—that aims to remake the department.