The U.S. Department of Justice is poised to release a report Friday detailing the extent of civil rights violations committed by the Chicago Police Department, which will trigger negotiations with the federal government and provide an early sign of how much pressure President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will be willing to exert on cities to reform police agencies.
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department opened investigations into 25 law enforcement agencies and negotiated court-enforced settlements with most of the cities. Trump’s nominee to lead the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions, has expressed concerns about using such an aggressive approach.
Here are things to know about the Chicago report:
The 2014 shooting of a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, sparked the federal government’s civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department, though the police force has long had a reputation for brutality.
Most notorious was the use of torture by officers under police commander Jon Burge to force Black men to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. That started in the early 1970s and went on for years.
The Justice Department started investigating Chicago’s 12,000-member police force in December 2015, after the release of squad car video showing a White officer shooting McDonald 16 times as the teen walked away holding a small knife. City lawyers fought the release of the video, which happened only after a court order. The officer who killed McDonald was charged only hours before the video’s release.
During their investigation, members of the Justice Department’s civil rights division combed through Chicago police records, rode along with beat officers and held public meetings in largely Black neighborhoods.
Unlike a deal announced Thursday in Baltimore, there’s no binding deal with Chicago. All that work will be done after Trump’s inauguration. The next critical stage will be closed-door, bilateral negotiations between the federal government and city officials to reach a detailed settlement. They haven’t typically included compliance deadlines, though some of the consent decrees have set a goal of “sustained compliance” within two to four years.
While Trump’s position on such Justice Department investigations isn’t clear, he portrayed himself as staunchly pro-law enforcement while campaigning and was endorsed by many police unions, including Chicago’s.
During confirmation hearings in Washington this week, Sessions spoke about consent decrees. He stopped short of rejecting the Obama administration’s approach of making a federal court the main tool for getting a police department to change, but he made his reservations clear.
“The consent decree itself is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said, but added they can potentially “undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness. And we need to be careful before we do that.”
Political appointees at the Justice Department could argue for altering many of the procedures favored by Obama appointees, but career staffers could also push for continuity.
Chicago just experienced another bad year of mostly gang-related violence, with a total of 762 homicides — the most in two decades and more than New York and Los Angeles combined. During the presidential campaign, Trump singled out Chicago and called for tougher police tactics. This month, he tweeted that the city should seek federal help if it can’t bring down the rising homicide tally.
The Justice Department has conducted civil rights investigations of nearly 70 police departments since 1994, when Congress authorized them. They have focused on both small and large police departments, including Puerto Rico’s 18,000-member force.
Police departments in Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri, have also recently been subjects of civil rights investigated. The Cleveland investigation was spurred in part by a 2012 incident in which police killed two unarmed Black suspects by firing 137 shots into their car.
The Ferguson investigation followed the 2014 killing of an unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown, by a White police officer. The Justice Department’s scathing report found that Ferguson’s police and court systems generated city revenue through fines levied on Black residents, among other abuses. Six months of talks led to a settlement, but the Ferguson City Council initially rejected it, citing its cost. After receiving assurances the costs would be a more manageable $2.3 million over three years, the council approved the deal.
MICHAEL TARM, Associated Press