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5 takeaways from the Department of Justice's report on the Chicago Police Department

5 takeaways from the Department of Justice's report on the Chicago Police Department
Photograph: CC/Flickr/Isadora Ruyter-Harcourt

Excessive use of force, poor training and unjust targeting of minorities are just some of the findings of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department. On Friday, the DOJ released a report outlining a pattern of behavior within the department that includes excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment caused by severely deficient training procedures and accountability systems.

The 164-page report was the culmination of a 13-month long investigation into the department, following the 2015 release of dashboard camera video that showed CPD officer Jason Van Dyke shooting and killing black teenager Laquan McDonald. During a Friday morning press conference, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that incident, as well as other recent instances of deadly use of force against African Americans, underscore the “painful divisions between police officers and citizens” in cities such as Chicago.

“During the course of our investigation, the department heard from countless officers who themselves were disillusioned and discouraged by strained trust, by inadequate training, poor oversight, and inattention to officer wellness and safety,” Lynch said. “And, they understand that repairing trust with the communities they serve will require difficult and meaningful reforms.”

Included in the report is an indictment of CPD policies and procedures, as well as a number of recommendations and reforms needed within the Chicago Police Department. We've gathered five of the more significant takeaways from the DOJ’s report, which makes the need for change in Chicago's approach to law enforcement crystal clear.

A pattern of racist, unconstitutional behavior
Among the more significant findings in the report were numerous examples of CPD engaging in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The report says that its determination was not the result of isolated instances, adding that “officers use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution with frequency, and that unconstitutional force has been historically tolerated” by the department. Department of Justice investigators also found that the department’s toleration of “racially discriminatory conduct” both contributes to the pattern of excessive force and undermines police legitimacy.

Poor and inefficient police training
Insufficient officer training is another significant contributing factor, according to the report. And Attorney General Lynch echoed that assessment, saying that the pattern of unconstitutional behavior described in the report “is in no small part the result of severely deficient training procedures.” “CPD does not give its officers the training they needs to do their jobs safely, effectively and lawfully,” Lynch said. Specific criticisms of CPD training include not providing officers with adequate use-of-force training or guidance on ways to safely control and resolve conflicts before force is needed. 

Ineffective oversight of the police department
In addition to poor training, deficiencies in supervision and accountability reinforce many of the problems within the department. Specifically, the report looks at CPD’s failure to investigate use-of-force incidents responsibly and without bias in favor of officers. “[CPD] fails to collect and analyze data, including data on conduct complaints and training deficiencies, and it does not adequately review use-of-force incidents to determine whether force was appropriate or lawful, or whether the use of force could have been avoided all together,” the attorney general said.

Changes have been made, but more are needed
Alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lynch did say that the city has made some progress toward improving oversight and supporting more community oriented policing practices in the 13 months since the DOJ announced its investigation. Emanuel added that CPD has improved and expanded de-escalation training, made commitments to provide every police officer with body cameras and Tasers, and expanded officer recruitment efforts within the community. Despite these efforts, Lynch stressed that the report makes clear that a considerable amount of work is still needed.

City agrees to negotiate a consent decree with DOJ
Demonstrating that Emanuel and CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson are open to some of the police department reforms presented in the report, on Friday the city signed an agreement to work with the DOJ on a consent decree. The legally binding agreement would ensure that a federal judge oversees the implementation of reforms to the Chicago Police Department that are identified by federal and local officials.

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