Justice News

Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at Press Conference Announcing Findings of Investigation into Chicago Police Department
Chicago, IL
United States
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Friday, January 13, 2017

Good morning, and thank you, Attorney General [Loretta E.] Lynch.  Thank you also to U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon.  I am deeply grateful for the extraordinary work of the DOJ team from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office here in Chicago that has worked tirelessly over these past 13 months.  I also want to thank Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Superintendent [Eddie] Johnson for their cooperation during this investigation and for their commitment to reform.  And I want to thank the people of Chicago, including the city’s police officers, for engaging with the Justice Department over these many months because they care so much about their city.

Since we launched this investigation in December 2015, the Justice Department has deployed our largest team ever in a policing pattern-or-practice case to conduct a thorough and fair investigation of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).  We reviewed thousands of documents and hundreds of force reports.  We met with community members, city officials and each of the police unions.  We visited each of Chicago’s 22 police districts, went on 60 ride-alongs and spoke to 340 members of CPD, from command staff to line officers.  We also met with over 90 community organizations and heard from more than 1,000 Chicagoans.  And 11 independent subject matter experts, most of them current and former law enforcement officials, assisted with this investigation.

As the Attorney General said, we found that the Chicago Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including deadly force and non-deadly force.  This pattern includes, for example, shooting at people who present no immediate threat and tasing people for not following verbal commands.  This conduct doesn’t only harm residents, it endangers officers.  It results in avoidable deaths, injuries and trauma.  And it erodes police-community trust – trust that is the cornerstone of public safety.

We found that this pattern of unconstitutional force is largely attributable to systemic deficiencies within CPD and the city:

  • We found that CPD does not adequately train its officers to use the appropriate amount of force.  For example, we observed training on deadly force that used a video made decades ago, with guidance inconsistent with both current law and internal policy. 
  • We found that CPD officers do not fully report their uses of force and that supervisors do not appropriately review these uses of force.
  • We found that Chicago’s accountability systems are broken.  Many complaints that should be investigated are not.  When investigations do occur, they are glacially slow and staffed by overworked and undertrained investigators who often fail to obtain basic witness statements and evidence.  Officers are rarely held accountable for misconduct, and when they are, discipline is unpredictable and ineffective.
  • We found that CPD’s approach to data collection on the use of force prevents CPD from spotting dangerous trends, responding with remedial training or sharing useful information with the public.
  • We found that CPD’s promotion systems are not transparent.
  • And we found that CPD fails to provide officers with the support they need to deal with the stress and trauma of their jobs.

We make these findings acutely aware that this is a time of significant challenge for Chicago residents and police officers.  Gun violence has spiked.  Relations between police officers and residents are strained.  And officer morale is suffering.  But this context only heightens the importance and urgency of our findings. 

The failures we identified—that we heard about from residents and officers alike—have deeply eroded community trust, particularly in African-American and Latino communities suffering the most from gun violence on Chicago’s South and West Sides.  These neighborhoods are the hardest hit by CPD’s pattern of unlawful force and breakdowns in the city’s accountability systems.  These breakdowns breed distrust and undermine police legitimacy in the very communities that need fair, proactive policing the most.  Distrust of law enforcement makes residents unwilling to share information.  And that makes it harder for officers to solve and prevent crimes.  Addressing the deeply rooted police-community distrust is a critical part of fighting crime and reducing violence in Chicago. 

Chicago’s leaders are aware of many of these problems, and to their credit, they have been working to address them—such as revamping IPRA, bringing officers new de-escalation training, rolling out body cameras and adopting a new policy on the release of videos. 

CPD’s greatest resource is its officers—the men and women who every day put their lives on the line to keep the nearly 3 million people of this great city safe.  Many officers feel let down.  Our investigation determined that for too long, you have been forced to do your jobs without the training, resources and equipment you need.  And when accountability systems are broken and individual misconduct goes systemically unaddressed in your midst, it hurts the entire police department and the city.  This can change.  The city and CPD need to consistently incentivize and reward effective, ethical and active policing, and to hold to account misconduct when found.

We know that for both residents and officers, the days when the Justice Department announces our findings are difficult.  But today is also a moment of opportunity, where we begin to move from identifying problems to developing solutions.  CPD must undergo broad and fundamental reforms, sustained through a federal consent decree and independent oversight.

The city and the Justice Department have entered into an agreement in principle, which commits both parties to negotiate a court-enforceable, independently-monitored consent decree that resolves our findings.  Our findings report contains a set of comprehensive recommendations.  These recommendations serve as a guide to begin negotiations for this agreement.  As our career lawyers begin negotiations with the city, they will once again be seeking the input of community members—along with CPD officers, leaders and police unions—about the kinds of reforms that are required to remedy the problems we found.  Your voices are critical to helping us craft reforms that work—and that last.

In Chicago, and around the country, reform cannot and will not happen overnight.  Chicago deserves a police department that has the support and trust of all of the communities it serves, and that supports its officers.  I know our findings can lead to reform and rebuild community-police trust.  I know this because we’ve seen it happen in community after community around the country over the past 20 years.

At this time, I’d like to invite U.S. Attorney Fardon to share a few words.

Updated January 13, 2017