The Justice Department will investigate the Chicago Police Department to see if the force “has engaged in a pattern or practice of violation of the Constitution or federal law,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced Monday.
“Our investigation is focused on use of force and the accountability within the police department,” Lynch said. This probe will look at how officers use deadly force and examine any racial or ethnic disparities in how force is utilized, as well as how the department handles discipline and allegations of misconduct.
This investigation into the country’s second-largest local police department comes less than two weeks after the Chicago force was placed in the national spotlight due to recently-released video footage showing a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager.
The Post first reported Sunday that the Justice Department would open this investigation, one that will put Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s force under the microscope of his former colleagues in the Obama administration.
Attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division will meet with officers, law enforcement command staff, city officials and other community members, Lynch said. If the investigation finds any unconstitutional behavior, federal officials would work with the city to enact reforms, something Lynch noted would come with a court-enforced agreement.
“We understand that the same systems that fail community members also fail conscientious officers by creating mistrust between law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect,” Lynch said.
The intense scrutiny of the Chicago police stems from the October 2014 death of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old. While McDonald’s death occurred more than a year ago, it was only last month that authorities, acting on a judge’s order, released footage of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the teenager. Van Dyke was charged with murder the same day that video footage was released.
In the video clip, captured by a dashboard camera, Van Dyke is seen firing a volley of shots at McDonald, many of them after the teenager had already fallen to the ground. And while the initial accounts from authorities suggested that McDonald was approaching officers, the video showed him appearing to veer away before he was shot.
City officials agreed earlier this year to pay McDonald’s family $5 million in a settlement. But they fought releasing the video footage of the shooting, arguing that it would impede the ongoing investigations into the incident.
In the days after the video was released, anger erupted on Chicago’s streets, as peaceful protests stretched through downtown streets. Activists have railed against the police department and the long lag between McDonald’s shooting and the announcement last month that the officer involved would be charged.
A separate federal investigation into the McDonald shooting is still ongoing.
Less than a week after releasing the video, Emanuel, a Democrat narrowly reelected to a second term earlier this year after being forced into an unexepcted runoff, dismissed the head of his police department. He also announced a new task force meant to look at ways to improve police accountability.
The Justice Department’s decision to investigate the broader practices of the Chicago police comes amid a widespread focus on how officers use deadly force toward black men and boys. A series of high-profile incidents across the country have sparked protests and unrest, and police officers have described feeling increasingly tense and say they feel demonized.
The same day that Emanuel dismissed Garry F. McCarthy, his police superintendent, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations by the Chicago Police Department. In her letter, Madigan described trust in the police as “broken, especially in communities of color,” and cited several cases of officers in Chicago shooting people in the city.