On Friday, he U.S. Justice Department issued a report charging the Chicago Police Department with a pattern of civil rights abuses.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the federal probe, covering the period from 2012 to 2016, found that the Chicago police force “engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force that violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.
Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, told the press that police shot at people who posed no “immediate threat to officers,” and used Tasers to shock people “for not following verbal commands.” Officers are “too rarely held accountable for misconduct and discipline is unpredictable and ineffective,” she added. Gupta also charges that communities of color are particularly “burdened” by police misconduct..
The investigation was sparked after the release of a 2014 patrol-car dashboard video showing a Chicago officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald a startling 16 times. The slaying of the African American youth set off street protests in the Windy City.
Police abuse has continued to be a contentious issue in Chicago. In October 2015, three former detainees filed a suit against the city and a number of individual police officers for abuses they said they suffered at an “off the books” detention center secretly run by the department.
As the Justice Department report was released, Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an agreement pledging to negotiate a legally binding “consent decree” to ensure that reforms are crafted and implemented, under the authority of a federal judge. The reforms may be carried out under the oversight of a court-appointed independent monitor.
With news of the Chicago report came a related development from Baltimore, where city authorities and the Justice Department announced on Jan. 12 that they have reached an agreement on a consent decree to reform the police department—to address a similar pattern of abuse.
The reforms, intended to increase public accountability and civilian oversight of the police force, are to be overseen by an independent monitor.
“The reforms in this consent decree will help ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement, and advance public and officer safety,” Lynch said.
Under Lynch, the Justice Department has pursued investigations and sought consent decrees with cities including Newark, Cleveland, Albuquerque and Ferguson, Missouri, where the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
But the developments from Chicago and Baltimore come just as arch-conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, president-elect Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is facing his confirmation process—and he has expressed open skepticism about such decrees.
Lynch expressed her confidence that the police reforms “will live on” regardless of who is in charge. We will see in the coming months if her optimism is warranted.
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