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CHICAGO Chicago’s police routinely used
excessive force, tolerated racially discriminatory conduct and
often maintained a “code of silence” among officers to thwart
investigations into misconduct, federal officials said in a
blistering report released on Friday.
The U.S. Department of Justice civil rights probe began in
December 2015 following the release of video footage showing
Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, being fatally shot by white
police officer Jason Van Dyke. The video’s release
sparked several days of protests and led to the ouster of
Chicago’s police chief and calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to
The McDonald shooting was just one of many high-profile incidents that thrust Chicago and other cities into a national
debate over excessive use of force by police against minorities.
“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,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta
Lynch said at a news conference, flanked by Chicago’s mayor and
The report said use of excessive force by Chicago police
included officers shooting at fleeing suspects and use of Tasers
The 161-page report came the same week that Baltimore agreed
with the Justice Department to change how officers use force and
transport prisoners, almost two years after the death of a black
man while in police custody sparked a day of rioting.
Justice Department officials have pushed to wrap up ongoing
investigations before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in
on Jan. 20. Republican Trump touted himself during his campaign
as more friendly to law enforcement.
President Barack Obama’s administration opened 25 civil
rights investigations into law enforcement agencies as part of
efforts to re-examine and improve U.S. policing practices,
particularly in minority communities.
Also on Friday, the Justice Department praised the
Philadelphia Police Department for making “tremendous progress”
in implementing changes recommended two years ago. Federal
officials in March 2015 said problems in training and internal
investigations had created “an undercurrent of significant
strife” between the city’s residents and police.
Chicago and federal officials have signed an agreement in
principle to create a court-enforced consent decree that
addresses the problems found during the probe with compliance
reviewed by an independent monitor. The consent decree must be
negotiated then approved by a federal judge.
Chicago’s mayor, Emanuel, enacted a series of police reforms
over the past year, including rolling out a body-camera program
and a new use of force policy, efforts recognized by Lynch.
McDonald, 17, was shot in October 2014 but the city did not
release the video of the shooting until more than a year later.
Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty to murder and is awaiting trial.
Many of the Chicago police department’s problems stemmed
from deficient training and accountability, Lynch said.
Investigations into police misconduct were often thwarted by “a code of silence among Chicago police officers … extending
to lying and affirmative efforts to conceal evidence,” the
“Some of the findings in the report are difficult to read,”
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at the news conference. “Quite simply, as a department, we need to do better.” (Additional reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by
Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis)
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