A blistering report by the Justice Department described far-reaching failures throughout the Chicago Police Department, saying excessive force was rampant, rarely challenged and chiefly aimed at African-Americans and Latinos.
The report, unveiled on Friday after a 13-month investigation, forced a public reckoning for a police department with a legacy of corruption and abuse. It came as the department grapples with skyrocketing violence in Chicago, where murders are at a 20-year high, and a deep lack of trust among the city’s residents.
Over 161 pages, the investigation laid out, in chilling detail, unchecked aggressions: an officer pointing a gun at teenagers on bicycles suspected of trespassing; officers using a Taser on an unarmed, naked 65-year-old woman with mental illness; officers purposely dropping off young gang members in rival territory.
The department’s missteps go well beyond the officers on patrol, the report said. After officers used excessive force, their actions were practically condoned by supervisors, who rarely questioned their behavior. One commander interviewed by the Justice Department said that he could not recall ever suggesting that officers’ use of force be investigated further.
The investigation is the latest of a police department by the Justice Department, which had rushed to complete its findings in both Chicago and Baltimore before the expiration of President Obama’s term. The administration has made expansive use of investigations amid a wrenching national debate over race and policing. Chicago is among nearly two dozen cities — including Cleveland; Ferguson, Mo.; and Seattle — where the Justice Department has pushed for wholesale changes to police practices.
But under the administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, the enforcement of the Justice Department’s agreement with Chicago officials is uncertain. Mr. Trump’s attorney general nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, has said he believes the Obama administration’s tactics have gone too far and unfairly maligned officers. He has also spoken against the court-enforced settlements, known as consent decrees, that usually result from investigations like the one in Chicago.
With its report, the Justice Department put the city’s problems on the record and set in motion negotiations on a consent decree, a process that the new administration could embrace or abandon.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that city officials were committed to correcting the faults found by investigators and would pursue a consent decree regardless of who is leading the Justice Department.
“We’re going to negotiate,” Mr. Emanuel said. “I can’t negotiate, assuming Jeff Sessions gets confirmed, I can’t negotiate for him. But we’re going to be at the table.”
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch presented the report at the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago, alongside Mr. Emanuel, who laid out the steps the city had committed to take to remedy the problems, and Zachary T. Fardon, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
Ms. Lynch said the Justice Department had reviewed thousands of documents, conducted extensive interviews, and discovered widespread evidence that the Police Department was sorely in need of reform. It does not train officers properly, fails to properly collect and analyze data, and has little support from the community, the report said.
“The systems and policies that fail ordinary citizens also fail the vast majority of Chicago Police Department officers who risk their lives every day to serve and protect the people of Chicago,” Ms. Lynch said.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith