Justice Department to Investigate Chicago Police Department

Yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department was initiating an investigation into the practices of the Chicago Police Department. Specifically, the investigation would focus on the use of force by police in the Windy City and on accountability within the department. This comes on the heels of some high profile firings, including to top cop in town, and another shooting of a black man by police that will not result in charges against the officer. This may well bring down Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Chicago is out of control compared to other American cities. There have been 472 homicides in the city this year. Of that, 417 were killed by firearms. Another 2380 have been shot and wounded. In New York, as of September 21 this year, 239 people had been slain with 852 people shot. Chicago has a population of about 2.7 million, and 9.5 million live in the greater Chicago area. New York has 8.74 million residents, and 19.9 million live in the greater New York area. In other words, Chicago is simply a more violent city these days.

That naturally is not lost on the police. They are, after all, only human, and going to work in a violent environment is quite different that going to work in a more peaceful place. Simply put, police offers can get scared, and scared people do dumb things like forget their training and ignore the rules of their department.

That explains excessive use of force, but it certainly doesn’t excuse it. More troublesome are the actions repeatedly seen in Chicago of police officers covering up misdeeds, and this speaks to accountability. In the recent case of the shooting of Laquan McDonald, a video recording of the shooting was buried for over a year and only when a freedom of information request forced its release did the world see that the press release and police reports of the incident were outright lies. The officer in question now faces first-degree murder charges, but the prosecutor’s office was forced into bringing charges only after the video was made public.

Mayor Emanuel knows he’s got a huge problem on his hands. The mayor needs the support of the police department, and for over a year, his administration fought the release of the McDonald video. This included the period during which he campaigned for re-election. Initially, he said that a federal probe would be “misguided.” He has since changed his tune thanks to media pressure. “I welcome the engagement of the Justice Department. We have a long road ahead of us as a city, and I welcome people from many views to help us do what exactly we need to do.” One doesn’t believe a word of it. He is unlikely to cooperate beyond the bare minimum. One must remember that he used to be a big-shot in the Obama administration and will work the phones to call in every favor he is owed to prevent any of this mud sticking to him.

Still, he is running out of scapegoats. He has already fired the superintendent of police, and yesterday, he sacked the head of the Independent Police Review Authority, which has looked into 409 cases of police-involved shootings over the last 8 years, finding only 2 unjustified (and those two involved off-duty officers).

Chicago is just the latest city to draw the attention of the feds. Cleveland; Seattle; New Orleans; Portland, Ore.; and Albuquerque have also had their departments investigated. When it happened in Ferguson, Missouri, the final report stated that the local cops routinely violated the rights of black citizens. In Baltimore, the mayor actually requested an investigation following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

The argument has always been that the cops are great guys, and a few bad apples are ruining the reputations of the good ones. While this journal doesn’t dispute that, what one must question is whether the systems under which the good police operate are strong enough to get rid of the bad ones. When it is the word of a police officer against that of a criminal, the public sides with the officer. When video evidence emerges that shows the officer to have been in the wrong, the system must be able to address that. In Chicago, there is more than enough evidence to doubt that it can.