Editorial: Police Supt. Garry McCarthy must go

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Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has lost the trust and support of much of Chicago, without which he cannot do his job.

Supt. McCarthy should resign. If he does not, Mayor Rahm Emanuel should fire him.

The Chicago Police Department is facing a historic crisis of mistrust, driven by stubbornly high rates of gun violence, recent revelations that officers are almost never disciplined for alleged misconduct, and the department’s questionable handling of two inexcusable fatal shootings by officers.


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It was McCarthy’s press office that, just hours after 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke in October of last year, put out a conveniently false statement that McDonald — knife in hand — was approaching the police when he was shot. In reality, as revealed in a dashcam police video finally released last week, McDonald was walking away from the officers.

And it was McCarthy who declined for more than three years to take disciplinary action against another officer, Dante Servin, who while off-duty had shot wildly into a crowd, killing 22-year-old Rekia Boyd. Not until the day before the Laquan McDonald video was to be released — and City Hall was scrambling to build a little community good will in advance — did McCarthy announce he would fire Servin.

McCarthy, though, is hardly alone in all this. Mayor Emanuel shares responsibility, both for the city’s failure to bring down the appalling number of gun shootings and its seemingly grudging efforts to hold cops such as Van Dyke and Servin accountable. It is also regrettable that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez failed to criminally charge Van Dyke for more than a year, saying she had to wait for federal prosecutors to complete their own investigation.

Given the explosive nature of this case — McDonald was shot 16 times — the credibility of the entire police department was on the line. Alvarez should have moved faster, not waiting on the feds.

But in calling for McCarthy to step aside, we want to be clear we’re not buying into every conspiracy theory. There is no sound evidence, most importantly, that Emanuel intentionally tried to hush up the McDonald case until after he was safely reelected. On the contrary, city lawyers say, McDonald’s family first reached out to the city — not the other way around — on Feb. 27 to seek a quiet financial settlement. The final amount was $5 million.

And while we believe City Hall should have released the dashcam video of McDonald much earlier in the interest of full transparency, the city’s explanation for not doing so until last week — and only then under court order — is plausible. It is a hard-and-fast rule, lawyers for the city say, never to release this kind of evidence until criminal trials are completed so as not to taint the proceedings.

McCarthy’s resignation is an essential first step for a city that must pursue new strategies to curtail gun violence and reform an unhealthy police culture of weak accountability. McCarthy has been superintendent for four years —longer than all but one of his predecessors. He has played his hand. It is time Mayor Emanuel brought in somebody new.

The Chicago Police Department requires fundamental reform. The problem is not “a few bad apples,” which is CPD’s usual defense when confronted with a Servin or a Van Dyke. It is a systemic reluctance by police brass and the Independent Police Review Authority to hold officers accountable, as revealed in statistics and, quite likely, the department’s handling of previous complaints against Van Dyke.

Chicago cops, according to a CPD databank made public last week, were disciplined in only 3 percent of more than 56,000 misconduct complaints filed over a 12-year period. Independent journalist Jamie Kalven obtained the data after filing a lawsuit against the city.

Most officers racked up four or fewer complaints, but 10 percent of the officers — including Van Dyke — were accused of misconduct 10 or more times.

Eighteen citizens complaints have been filed against Van Dyke in his 14-year career, including eight complaints of alleged excessive force. One complaint led a federal jury to award $350,000 to a man whose shoulders were injured after being roughed up by Van Dyke during a traffic stop. But Van Dyke has never once been disciplined.

This begs a haunting question. Would Laquan McDonald be alive today had the police department been more aggressive in holding Van Dyke accountable for his earlier alleged misconduct?

Further fueling our conviction that the Chicago Police Department under McCarthy has a bad habit of letting police misconduct slide is the example of Constantine G. “Dean” Andrews. For the last year, the veteran detective has been under investigation by city Inspector General Joe Ferguson for possible misconduct in a police investigation into the death of David Koschman, the young man who died in 2004 after being punched by a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

McCarthy not only has never lifted a finger to discipline Andrews. Last month, the superintendent actually promoted Andrews to chief of detectives.

The minute the horrifying video of Laquan McDonald was released last week, protesters took to the streets, loudly but mostly peaceably, demanding McCarthy’s resignation and a more accountable police force.

Sounds right to us.

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