DOJ Report On Chicago Police Finds 'Pattern Of Excessive Force' | KUOW News and Information

DOJ Report On Chicago Police Finds 'Pattern Of Excessive Force'

Jan 13, 2017
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's a little more than a year since the city of Chicago released video showing a white police officer shooting a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times. Protesters poured into the streets after the long-delayed release of the video, and they called for reforms.

Today, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch went to Chicago to discuss the Justice Department's year-long investigation into the city's police department. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Chicago is the latest city to have its police department come under the close scrutiny of the Justice Department following a controversial fatal encounter between police and a citizen. In 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a white police officer, but it took a court order for the city to release the police video. That officer has since been charged with murder.

Today, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department had interviewed hundreds of people, looked at use-of-force reports and conducted a wide-ranging investigation looking at the patterns and practices of the city's entire police department.

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LORETTA LYNCH: 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.

CORLEY: Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta says the problems in the Chicago Police Department stem in large part from a lack of training and effective oversight and no good system to hold the police accountable.

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VANITA GUPTA: This pattern includes, for example, shooting at people who present no immediate threat and Tasing people for not following verbal commands. This conduct doesn't only harm residents. It endangers officers. It results in avoidable deaths and injuries and trauma. And it erodes police community trust, trust that truly is the cornerstone of public safety.

CORLEY: While harshly criticizing the department, the attorney general also applauded some of the changes the city has already made, like adding body cameras for officers and revamping a police oversight body. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, faced with both skyrocketing shootings and police misconduct, agrees that change is needed. He calls the Justice report sobering.

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RAHM EMANUEL: And it's my fervent hope that this report does not lead to another round of finger-pointing or a more acrimonious debate of us versus them because if you look at the report, a lot of the recommendations for change come from police officers.

CORLEY: The Justice Department's finding that Chicago police trampled citizens' rights is no surprise to Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People's Law Office.

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, one thing that I thought was missing from this report that was fundamental and has been fundamental with regard to the Chicago Police Department is this both systemic and individualized racism that fuels the police brutality and violence in this city.

CORLEY: The report does outline how officers have disproportionately used force, however, against African-Americans and Latinos. The Justice Department findings come just a few days before the Trump administration takes over with a nominee for attorney general who's more skeptical of this approach to enforcing police department reforms. But Loretta Lynch says this preliminary agreement will stand.

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LYNCH: That work is carried on regardless of who sits at the top of the Justice Department. But I will say, it is also something that is dependent upon this city continuing to lean in as it has done.

CORLEY: The head of the Fraternal Order of Police says although the union remains hopeful that police perspective will be better understood in any further negotiations, the FOP is concerned about bias in the investigation. But for now, it's clear that the city is on notice that more reforms must come. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.