Task Force Confirms: Systemic Racism Exists in Chicago Police Department


Lisa Klein | Courthouse News Service

The Chicago Police Department has deeply rooted problems with racism and lack of accountability for its officers’ actions, according to a report from the Police Accountability Task Force.

“A painful but necessary reckoning is upon us,” the task force said of its findings.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for the task force in December, shortly after the release of a police dashcam video showing officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald sparked public outrage, protests and the dismissal of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The city council unanimously voted in Eddie Johnson as top cop on Wednesday, the same day the task force’s report came out. Johnson, an almost 30-year veteran of the police force, was handpicked by Emanuel to take the position.

The task force says in its report summary that the aftermath of the McDonald video “exposed deep and longstanding fault lines between black and Latino communities…and the police.”

The investigation found that, although Chicago’s population is evenly split between blacks, whites and Hispanics, 74 percent of police shootings between 2008 and 2015 involved blacks, and black drivers were four times as likely to be searched by police after being stopped, even though contraband was found twice as often on white drivers.

Police “approach every encounter with people of color as if the person, regardless of age, gender or circumstance, is a criminal,” says the report, citing a 2015 survey that showed 70 percent of young black males said they had been stopped by police officers in the past year.

The task force says it heard over and over from minority community members that they were “stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel.”

“We have racism in America. We have racism in Chicago. So it stands to reason we would have some racism within our agency,” Johnson told reporters yesterday. “My goal is to root that out.”

Not only is there rampant racism within the police department, the task force report says, but when an officer is accused of misconduct,”every stage of investigations and discipline is plagued by serious structural and procedural flaws that make real accountability nearly impossible.”

The report shows that more than 1,500 police officers have over 10 complaints filed against them, and some have more than 30. But nothing is done to address the complaints, according to the task force. Arbitration has reduced or voided any disciplinary action 73 percent of the time.

The Independent Police Review Authority, charged with investigating police misconduct, is just another arm of the force and is biased in favor of the officers, the report states. Forty percent of the complaints it received were not even investigated over the last five years, the task force found.

The “statistics give real credibility to the widespread perception that there is a deeply entrenched code of silence” within the department, according to the report.

The task force says union contracts “have essentially turned the code of silence into official policy” by enacting barriers to discipline and investigating misconduct.

Officers can wait 24 hours after a shooting to provide a statement and amend statements after viewing video or audio evidence, and the city is required to destroy evidence of misconduct after a number of years.

Just last month, Chicago’s police union sued the city to stop the inspector general from questioning Van Dyke and other officers about the McDonald shooting.

Several officers’ versions of what happened conflict with what the video shows, but the union says they cannot be questioned due to stipulations in its contract with the city. Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges.

Anthony Guglielmi, director of news affairs for the Chicago Police Department, said in a statement that Johnson believes reform is necessary and will be carefully reviewing the report and its recommendations.

“But we are not waiting to act, and over the last several months, the department has taken a number of important steps to strengthen the bonds of trust between Chicago police officers and the communities we’re sworn to protect,” Guglielmi said. “The Department welcomes additional recommendations, and we plan to continue to bring about important reforms to best serve the residents of Chicago.”

Published by Courthouse News Service