On eve of DOJ report, McCarthy criticizes feds’ views on policing

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Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy speaks to the City Club of Chicago last year. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy blasted the Justice Department on Thursday, saying the feds have wrongly focused on whether officers have been stopping African-Americans disproportionately.

McCarthy also blamed City Hall for “flipping over the table” on Chicago cops in 2016.

On Friday, the Justice Department is expected to release findings of constitutional violations by the Chicago Police, sources say. DOJ’s civil-rights division announced its inquiry in December 2015 after the city released the video of an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in which he denied harboring personal political ambitions, McCarthy criticized City Hall and the Justice Department.

He reiterated that DOJ officials have never spoken to him about their Chicago probe, even though he was responsible for the department’s policies and practices for more than four years.

But he also said the DOJ never interviewed him when he was the top cop in Newark, N.J., which later entered a consent decree with the federal government over findings of civil-rights violations by the police.

“My narrative does not fit the narrative that they are pushing,” said McCarthy, who was fired in late 2015 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel following the release of the McDonald video.

“They’ve already adopted the battle cry over and over again that we are disproportionately stopping African-Americans, and their conclusion is that we are biased and racially profiling,” he said of the DOJ. “They’re wrong.”

McCarthy pointed to statistics on officers’ street stops in 2013 and 2014 to highlight his position that policing during his tenure was based on crime data — and didn’t violate citizens’ rights.

The statistics, which he had previously presented during a speech to the City Club of Chicago in September, show the percentage of black and white people stopped over that period were almost identical to the percentage of black and white people suspected of crimes.

That was true, he said, both in high-crime districts like Englewood and lower-crime districts like Town Hall.

“We profiled crime, not people. We went to the places, locations and times when crime was most likely to happen,” McCarthy said.

“The standards that are being used by the Department of Justice are in conflict with what the Supreme Court has said, because ‘articulable, reasonable suspicion’ is not informed by demographic population data,” he said.

McCarthy acknowledged that the police department could make fewer street stops in the future, but he said that should be the result of crime data — and not racial balancing.

“As crime goes down, stops and enforcement should come down with it,” he said. “The goal of policing is not to arrest everybody. The goal of policing is to reduce crime and at the same time, reduce enforcement.”

In his interview, McCarthy defended his leadership as Chicago’s Police superintendent, noting that the city’s murder rate fell to 50-year lows, while total arrests also declined. After McCarthy was fired in December 2015, murders soared. There were more than 760 murders last year and more than 4,300 people shot by criminals. Police officers, meanwhile, shot 27 people last year.

“Nobody is talking about what percentage of the African-American community is victimized by crime,” McCarthy said. “What we are talking about is victimization by police. The priorities are wrong.”

As superintendent, McCarthy said he took steps to improve the department in two key areas that the DOJ report is sure to focus on: training and supervision. He said one of his most important changes in training involved “police legitimacy,” which urges officers to explain to citizens why they are being stopped and to approach people in a civil manner.

“Sometimes, it’s more important how you do something than how you do it,” he said.

McCarthy also defended his use of “contact cards” as a measure of officers’ activity.

For years, officers have been required to fill out the cards when they conduct a street stop to document the name of the person, along with other information. In August 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois issued a scathing report saying those stops have disproportionately targeted blacks, even in white neighborhoods.

Although McCarthy denies that, he acknowledged that officers had been “poorly articulating” why they were stopping people.

He says that’s why he signed an agreement with the ACLU to share information on street stops and submit to the oversight of a former federal judge who’s been reviewing the stops to make sure officers have legal reasons for making them.

After McCarthy was fired in December 2015, the department began requiring officers to fill out a more extensive report every time they made a street stop. Police appear to have responded to the extra scrutiny by making fewer stops. Their activity plummeted from about 50,000 stops a month in 2015 to about 10,000 a month throughout 2016.

“Police officers didn’t know what to do anymore,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy says the falloff in Chicago’s police activity is linked to the rise in killings and shootings. Criminals became more emboldened in 2016, he said.

Although McCarthy didn’t mention Emanuel, he said he ultimately blamed a lack of political leadership on Chicago’s bloody 2016.

RELATED STORY: Emanuel says there’s no turning back on road to police reform

Skilled police veterans, including Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy, were forced to retire because of their connection to the controversial McDonald shooting, which led to a murder charge against Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Meanwhile, district commanders were promoted to top-level positions in the department before they were ready, McCarthy said.

“There’s a maturation process in leadership in policing. You have to go through the steps to succeed. I love these guys to death, but they’ve been thrown into a terrible situation, and I don’t think that [current police Supt.] Eddie Johnson is in control of his own destiny.”

McCarthy says he credits New York Mayor Bill de Blasio with allowing the police department there to stay on track despite recent high-profile scandals. “Mayor De Blasio is not well-regarded in policing circles, but they didn’t flip over the table. The table has been completely flipped over here. It’s political. The processes we had in place are all gone.”

McCarthy said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who had won the endorsement of the national Fraternal Order of Police and has been described as “pro-cop.” Some question whether the Trump administration would ever seek to enforce a consent decree between the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Justice.

During his four years as superintendent, McCarthy said he had met twice with President Barack Obama, who impressed McCarthy with his “command of the issues.” But McCarthy said that never translated into a national policy that improved policing.

Sources say McCarthy is now being urged to run for mayor. He’s maintained a public profile in recent months, making regular appearances on TV news shows, including “60 Minutes,” to discuss Chicago’s crime problem.

“People constantly tell me they think I should run for office,” he said. “It’s not in my DNA. I am too stubborn. I am not big on compromise. I don’t think that I would make a good elected official. You never know what life brings, but that’s not in my plan.”

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