Justice Department to Investigate Chicago Police for Possible Civil Rights Violations

By Kenrya Rankin Dec 07, 2015

It seems that protest can in fact get things done. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today (December 7) that it will investigate the Chicago Police Department (CPD).

Per the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the DOJ has opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the department. The goal: To determine if there are “systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by officers of CPD.” Specifically, it will drill down on the department’s use of force to uncover any disparities in how it is applied with regard to race and ethnicity, how it is reported and investigated, and how officers are held accountable for that force.

The announcement comes after massive protests and demands for an inquiry into the department following the release of the tape of Laquan McDonald’s death at the hands of CPD officer Jason Van Dyke.

In a press conference this morning, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch discussed the investigation:

The Department of Justice is committed to upholding the highest standards of law enforcement throughout the United States. Every American expects and deserves the protection of law enforcement that is effective, responsive, respectful and most importantly, constitutional—and each day, thanks to the tireless dedication of men and women who wear the badge, citizens from coast to coast receive just that. But when community members feel they are not receiving that kind of policing—when they feel ignored, let down or mistreated by public safety officials—there are profound consequences for the well-being of their communities, for the rule of law and for the countless law enforcement officers who strive to fulfill their duties with professionalism and integrity. …

Our goal in this investigation—as in all of our pattern-or-practice investigations—is not to focus on individuals, but to improve systems; to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need—including training, policy guidance and equipment—to be more effective, to partner with civilians and to strengthen public safety. We understand that the same systems that fail community members also fail conscientious officers by creating mistrust between law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. This mistrust from members of the community makes it more difficult to gain help with investigations, to encourage victims and witnesses of crimes to speak up, and to fulfill the most basic responsibilities of public safety officials. And when suspicion and hostility is allowed to fester, it can erupt into unrest. 

As part of the investigation, the department will connect with CPD officers, local government, community members, prosecutors and public defenders. It will not specifically delve into the McDonald case, but will look for patterns in the way business is conducted within the department. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois will assist with the investigation.

On November 24, 2015, officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder for shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times. Last week, mayor Rahm Emanuel effectively fired CPD superintendent Garry McCarthy amid backlash. On Sunday, Scott Ando resigned as head of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority. And this morning, CPD’s chief of detectives, Constantine "Dean" Andrews, stepped down. Protestors have continued to call for resignations from Emanuel and states attorney Anita Alvarez for their suspected roles in covering up how McDonald was killed.