Feds to probe Chicago Police Department over race, use of force

The investigation follows the police shooting death last year of Laquan McDonald. Meanwhile, prosecutors said Monday another Chicago cop would not face charges in a second 2014 police-involved shooting.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Monday about an investigation into the patterns and practices of the Chicago Police Department after recent protests over a video showing a white Chicago police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times.

The US Justice Department (DOJ) will launch a federal investigation against the second largest police force in the nation, after a video released by the Chicago police raised new questions about the killing of an unarmed teenager last year and led to a murder charge against one officer.

Federal investigators will look into the possibility of widespread civil rights violations in the department, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Monday. The inquiry would not target officers, but rather look at systemic issues inside the police department.

"Our goal in this investigation, as in all of our pattern-or-practice investigations, is not to focus on individuals, but to improve systems," Ms. Lynch said. "To ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need, including training, policy guidance and equipment, to be more effective, to partner with civilians and to strengthen public safety."

In November, the Chicago Police Department was ordered by a court to release a patrol car video from October 2014 that showed a police officer shooting an unarmed teenager 16 times. Officer Jason Van Dyke was subsequently charged last month with first-degree murder for killing Laquan McDonald.

On Monday, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that she would not be bringing charges against another Chicago policeman involved in a fatal shooting in 2014. During a news conference, Ms. Alvarez shared dashcam video footage of the incident in which Ronald Johnson III was killed by Officer George Hernandez. Mr. Johnson was said to be wielding a gun.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan requested the federal probe to determine whether police target minorities in Chicago. Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who initially resisted an outside investigation but now endorses it, fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. 

25 police departments nationally have been investigated since 1995, with the DOJ using federal powers to lodge lawsuits against city governments and departments in order to reform police practices.

This year, the Department of Justice is investigating the Baltimore police department, following the death of Freddie Gray, a black man in police custody, and has looked into the Ferguson, Missouri, police department, where a white police officer shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, Reuters said. The investigation found that Ferguson police regularly violated residents’ rights along racial lines.

In 2012, the Department of Justice also investigated the Cleveland Police Department, a venture that took 18 months and led to extensive reforms on how police can use force and the installation of an independent observer.

Mayor Emmanuel recently established a task force to evaluate the department and expanded the use of body cameras for officers on patrol.

Lynch said the investigation would also examine how officers are disciplined for excessive force.

“When community members feel that they are not receiving that kind of policing, when they feel ignored, let down or mistreated by public safety officials, there are profound consequences for the wellbeing of their communities, there are profound consequences for the rule of law and for the countless law enforcement officers who strive to fulfill their duties with professionalism and integrity,” Lynch said.

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