Racism, lack of accountability plague Chicago Police Department

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Chicago Police Board Chair Lori Lightfoot presented the findings of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force on Wednesday afternoon at the Harold Washington Library. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

A task force hand-picked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a scathing, 190-page report on the Chicago Police Department that pointed out a harsh racial divide between minority residents and the department and called for sweeping changes to officer training and discipline.

At a news conference Wednesday at the Harold Washington Library that took place as City Council members voted to permanently appoint a new police superintendent, Police Accountability Task Force members unveiled an expansive to-do list for new top cop Eddie Johnson. Emanuel had announced the task force four months ago, on the day he fired Johnson’s predecessor, Garry McCarthy amid protests over the shooting of a black teenager by a white Chicago police officer.

But, chairwoman Lori Lightfoot said the tension between minorities and police roiled by the shooting of Laquan McDonald had been building for decades, and few of her remarks on the novel-length report’s findings and recommendations would be disputed by the activists leading the protests. Neither will its broad strokes likely differ much from the findings of a pending investigation of police practices by the U.S. Department of Justice that began after McDonald’s shooting.

RELATED:Read the Laquan McDonald reports, see the videos

“The video that depicted the death of Laquan McDonald motivated a movement, and it was a tipping point, but really again the conversation about the narrative of the intersection of race and policing goes back decades,” Lightfoot said.

The uproar over police tactics that flared after the city in November released video tape of McDonald being shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke is one of the reasons that the proposed reforms are likely to take root, Lightfoot said, now that the mayor’s panel had added their voices to the calls for change.

“We made it very hard for people to ignore what we were saying,” Lightfoot said during a question-and-answer session with reporters. “This is a historic time.”

The report includes pages of names of people interviewed by task force members and research and reporting on the Police Department. Lightfoot noted that federal investigators conducting a civil rights investigation of the department had requested some of the same information.

The report highlights an “utter absence of a culture of accountability” in the Police Department, and calls for an independent inspector general to replace the Independent Police Review Authority, the body created by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the wake of scandals about former police Cmdr. Jon Burge’s torture tactics.

The panel found that only 2 percent of complaints against officers were sustained by IPRA, and only 1 percent of officers were exonerated of the claims against them. Thousands of complaints were virtually ignored or left in administrative nowhere — not verified one way or the other, or verified but deemed not to merit action.

The report was unprecedented in its scope and direct calls for major reforms, said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago Law School professor who has studied police accountability — and occasionally sued the city and police department.

“This is so different from very many blue-ribbon reports that have sat on a shelf,” Futterman said after reading a leaked summary.

“Here’s a report that finally acknowledges the reality of the experience of a significant number of black and brown people in the streets of the city.”

The report found that African Americans and Hispanics are four times more likely than whites to be stopped by police while driving, and nearly three quarters of “street stops” conducted by police targeted blacks. While comprising just a third of the city’s population, 72 percent of the people shocked with Tasers by police officers were black. The report also found that race seemed to influence promotion within the department.

Wednesday afternoon, Emanuel did not immediately endorse the findings, though at the time he was approached by reporters, the mayor had yet to be briefed on the report.

Emanuel responded to the report’s harsh language by acknowledging the obvious. He doesn’t need a task force to tell him that there is racism in America, racism in Chicago and racism in the Chicago Police Department.

“Do we have racism? We do. The question is, what do we intend to do about it?” he said.

“I know that we can’t go back and we have only one opportunity to make it right, which is to stay with this all the way through. And it will take many, many years. It’s not one change. It’s not one thing. It’s a comprehensive approach to making those changes.”

Police Accountability Task Force

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