DOJ: Chicago PD Was Out of Control

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 17, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a scathing report, the Justice Department found that the Chicago Police Department "engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution," with little or no accountability for misconduct. Specifically, officers engaged in "tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits" that often ended with officers unreasonably shooting someone -- including unarmed individuals -- and used Tasers against or shot at individuals who posed no immediate threat. The report also found that officers' accounts of use-of-force incidents were later discredited by video evidence.

Additionally, the DOJ determined that there was a disproportionate effect on Chicago's black and Latino citizens. The city signed an agreement in principle to work to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies found during the DOJ's investigation.

Chicago's Culture

The probe into Chicago's policing was launched after 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times as he walked away from an officer who originally claimed McDonald lunged at him. The report cited inadequate training and unsound tactics (like failing to wait for backup, improperly approaching vehicles, and using their own vehicles in a dangerous manner) as a major reason for the use of excessive force, and notes that the failure to review and investigate officer use of force or hold officers accountable for misconduct "has helped create a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use."

Justice's Jeremiad

The DOJ did not mince words in its report, ruling:

CPD's pattern or practice of unconstitutional force is largely attributable to deficiencies in its accountability systems and in how it investigates uses of force, responds to allegations of misconduct, trains and supervises officers, and collects and reports data on officer use of force. The department also found that the lack of effective community-oriented policing strategies and insufficient support for officer wellness and safety contributed to the pattern or practice of unconstitutional force.

In addition, the department also identified serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers and the degree to which that conduct is tolerated and in some respects caused by deficiencies in CPD's systems of training, supervision and accountability. The department's findings further note that the impact of CPD's pattern or practice of unreasonable force falls heaviest on predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, such that restoring police-community trust will require remedies addressing both discriminatory conduct and the disproportionality of illegal and unconstitutional patterns of force on minority communities.

The CPD's compliance with the consent decree will be reviewed by an independent monitor, and the department will be soliciting community input on improving police practices as well as participating in Chicago's Violence Reduction Network.

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