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U.S. Attorney: A few bad cops make it harder for good officers

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon speaks at a City Club of Chicago event last year. He resigned Monday. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Two years of controversial police shooting incidents have created a law enforcement crisis that will be alleviated only by rooting out bad apples who have made the job harder for a majority of police, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said Monday.

Speaking at the City Club of Chicago, Fardon took on the national policing issue and its implications for Chicago’s out-of-control violence.

“When officers break the law, it hurts us all. It hurts the immediate victims, it hurts the public, who lose faith and confidence in law enforcement, and it hurts all of the good officers who suffer from that loss of public faith and confidence. Those good officers can no longer do their jobs effectively,” Fardon said.

The national policing crisis began with the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and peaked with the release of the video in November 2015 that showed the Laquan McDonald shooting, Fardon said.

“And nowhere is that more true, with more at stake, than right here in Chicago,” he said. “Eric Garner dying from a chokehold in Staten Island; Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot and killed in Ohio; Freddie Gray dying in the back of a police van in Baltimore; Laquan McDonald shot 16 times, mostly on the ground; and, more recently, Paul O’Neal shot in the back here in Chicago. There are dozens and dozens more examples.”

“Police officers are by and large the noblest of our public servants. They’re the ones, women and men, who’ve taken a job at modest pay, where every day they wake up not knowing if they may get hurt or even killed. And damn near all of them do that, and wear that risk, because they are good people,” he said.

“To succeed, those good officers need credibility with the public they serve. And when bad cops are able to do bad things and there’s no accountability, that hurts all of those good officers,” he continued. “. . . That paradigm can create and foster the exact kind of “don’t snitch” culture we have seen for decades now in our neighborhoods — South Side and West Side — that most desperately need the police to be able to solve crimes, to catch the murderers. It’s time to fix that.”

Fardon rattled off the city’s staggering violence statistics: homicides up over 40 percent; shootings up 50 percent; 30 kids under age 13 shot this year alone; and since 2010, more than 2,800 kids shot, and 369 kids killed.

“In my three years as United States Attorney, I’ve been asked more than a dozen times what I think of the term Chiraq. . . . Chiraq — whatever else it may evoke — is now a verbal symbol of the hard reality that Chicago is a tale of two cities, one safe and bucolic, the other dangerous and volatile,” Fardon said.

“The challenge we need to be talking about is the decades-old social justice concern of these neighborhoods set apart, and children put at risk.”

Fardon declined to divulge much about the U.S. Justice Department’s “pattern and practice” investigation into the Chicago Police Department begun last December. The sweeping civil review into whether there have been repeated Constitutional violations by Chicago police over the years — particularly in use of force, and accountability — is the largest such investigation in DOJ history.

“For the past nine months our DOJ team has done a deep dive on those areas. The team has analyzed tons of data, interviewed hundreds of people, held public forums, conducted ride-alongs with patrol officers, reviewed policies and procedures, scrutinized training, and conferred with top experts across the country. This is the first time in Chicago’s history there has been this kind of review. So this is hugely important stuff,” he said.

“We are, I believe, moving at record pace. . . . But our urgency has to be balanced with efficacy. We’ve got one shot at this thing, and so we have to get it right,” he continued. “Assuming we find problems, our goal is not quick fixes; it is long-term, sustainable change. . . . So that’s how we’re approaching this historic opportunity.”

Fardon said he believes the CPD investigation was “inevitable.” And he said he believes the spike in violence is traceable to the police shooting cases.

“The current spike in violence followed four quick successive events late last year: The city released the Laquan McDonald video; DOJ announced its pattern and practice investigation; CPD’s superintendent of 4 1/2 years was let go. On Jan. 1 of this year, a contract went into effect between the city and the ACLU mandating that officers fill out lengthy contact cards for every street encounter,” Fardon said.

“After those four events, I believe there was a hit on CPD morale, and a drag on officer willingness to conduct stops,” Fardon said. “I also think that the fallout in public confidence — the apparent embattlement of police on all fronts — created a sense of emboldenment among gang members, especially in Chicago’s most violence-afflicted neighborhoods. Some gang members apparently felt they could get away with more, and so more bullets starting flying.”

Afterward, responding to reporters’ questions, Fardon expounded on why he believed the DOJ investigation of CPD was inevitable.

“There are bad cops in the world. I know that. You know that. Everyone knows that. There are going to be bad cops, especially when you have a police department that has 13,000 officers in it,” he said. “When bad cops do bad things and theres’s no accountability, it hurts all of the good officers that are trying to do their jobs. For too long, in the city of Chicago, we have seen those kinds of concerns, and I do think this kind of review was inevitable.”