Are people's concerns about racism in the Chicago Police Department justified? A new report from a mayoral task force provides an incredibly blunt answer: absolutely.
"The community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified," the task force concluded. "There is substantial evidence that people of color — particularly African-Americans — have had disproportionately negative experiences with the police over an extended period of time. There is also substantial evidence that these experiences continue today through significant disparate impacts associated with the use of force, foot and traffic stops and bias in the police oversight system itself."
The task force, with members appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was asked to investigate the Chicago Police Department late last year, shortly after video of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black teenager, was released. By and large, the report validates the criticisms and protests of racial justice activists, who have demonstrated against racial disparities in policing and the criminal justice system.
The task force stated, "Stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel — that is what we heard about over and over again."
To address the findings, the task force lays out dozens of recommendations, ranging from hiring a more diverse police force to training officers to deal with subconscious racial biases.
Here are eight of the report's findings, showing the depth of systemic failure and prejudice at the nation's second largest municipal police force.
1) Police officers flat out lied in their statements about the McDonald shooting
The task force's investigation began shortly after the video of the McDonald shooting was released. Although it's already widely known that McDonald posed little threat to officers at the time of the shooting, it's worth reiterating that the officers completely lied about what happened until video footage was released.
Here is the statement from Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot and killed McDonald:
McDonald was holding the knife in his right hand, in an underhand grip, with the blade pointed forward. He was swinging the knife in an aggressive, exaggerated manner. Van Dyke ordered McDonald to ‘Drop the knife!’ multiple times. McDonald ignored Van Dyke’s verbal direction to drop the knife and continued to advance toward Van Dyke. When McDonald got to within 10 to 15 feet of Officer Van Dyke, McDonald looked toward Van Dyke. McDonald raised the knife across his chest and over his shoulder, pointing the knife at Van Dyke. Van Dyke believed McDonald was attacking Van Dyke with the knife, and attempting to kill Van Dyke. In defense of his life, Van Dyke backpedaled and fired his handgun at McDonald, to stop the attack. McDonald fell to the ground but continued to move and continued to grasp the knife, refusing to let go of it. Van Dyke continued to fire his weapon at McDonald as McDonald was on the ground, as McDonald appeared to be attempting to get up, all the while continuing to point the knife at Van Dyke.
Many of Van Dyke's colleagues made similar statements, claiming that McDonald approached Van Dyke with a knife despite the officer's calls to drop the weapon.
Virtually none of this was accurate, the task force concluded:
Not until 13 months later — after a pitched legal battle doggedly pursued by local investigative journalists resulted in the court-ordered release of the dash-cam video of the shooting — did the public learn the truth: McDonald made no movements toward any officers at the time Van Dyke fired the first shot, and McDonald certainly did not lunge or otherwise make any threatening movements. The truth is that at the time Van Dyke fired the first of 16 shots, Laquan McDonald posed no immediate threat to anyone.
It would be one thing if the McDonald shooting were the sole instance in which a police officer gunned down a black man for practically no reason and he and his fellow officers lied about what happened. But the task force's report repeatedly found broader, systemic problems at the Chicago Police Department. The McDonald shooting, then, was just one example of a broader problem.
2) The Chicago Police Department has a clear history of racism
The report found:
The linkage between racism and CPD did not just bubble up in the aftermath of the release of the McDonald video. Racism and maltreatment at the hands of the police have been consistent complaints from communities of color for decades. And there have been many significant flashpoints over the years — the killing of Fred Hampton (1960s), the Metcalfe hearings (1970s), federal court findings of a pattern and practice of discriminatory hiring (1970s), Jon Burge and his midnight crew (1970s to 1990s), widespread disorderly conduct arrests (1980s), the unconstitutional gang loitering ordinance (1990s), widespread use of investigatory stops and frisks (2000s) and other points. False arrests, coerced confessions and wrongful convictions are also a part of this history. Lives lost and countless more damaged. These events and others mark a long, sad history of death, false imprisonment, physical and verbal abuse and general discontent about police actions in neighborhoods of color.
3) Chicago police shoot and stun black residents with Tasers at "alarming rates"
There were 404 police shootings between 2008 and 2015, according to the task force. Among the victims, 74 percent were black, even though black people make up just 33 percent of Chicago's population.
There were similar reported numbers for Taser discharges: Of the 1,886 Taser uses between 2012 and 2015, 76 percent of those hit by stun guns were black.
"CPD's own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color," the task force concluded.
4) Chicago police were more likely to search black drivers — even though white people who were searched were more likely to have contraband
Chicago police are more likely to stop and search black drivers. In 2013, 46 percent of traffic stops involved black people. "Moreover," the report added, "black and Hispanic drivers were searched approximately four times as often as white drivers, yet CPD's own data show that contraband was found on white drivers twice as often as black and Hispanic drivers."
5) Chicago police were much more likely to stop black people in encounters that led to no arrests
"In the summer of 2014, CPD stopped more than 250,000 people — 93.6 for every 10,000 City residents — in encounters not leading to arrests," the task force found. Among those stopped, 72 percent were black, 17 percent were Hispanic, and 9 percent were white.
6) Not only are Chicago police more likely to stop black people, but officers are more likely to use force against black residents
The report stated:
A 2015 survey of 1,200 Chicago residents, ages 16 and older, also found significant racial disparities in the number of police-initiated stops and the perception of abusive police behavior. The survey found that almost 70% of young African-American males reported being stopped by police in the past 12 months, and 56% reported being stopped on foot.
The survey found that "[m]ost people stopped by Chicago police are not ticketed, arrested or taken to a police station." In addition, the survey established "large racial disparities in the use of force reported by respondents." The survey revealed that "15% of Blacks and 17% of Hispanics reported being shoved or pushed around, in contrast to 6% of Whites. [Blacks] were twice as likely as whites to be threatened by a weapon. Compared to whites, all other groups were at least twice as likely to have been subjected to some form of force before being released."
7) The agencies set up to hold Chicago police accountable almost never do
The task force concluded:
Every stage of investigations and discipline is plagued by serious structural and procedural flaws that make real accountability nearly impossible. The collective bargaining agreements provide an unfair advantage to officers, and the investigating agencies — [the Independent Police Review Authority] and CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs — are under-resourced, lack true independence and are not held accountable for their work. Even where misconduct is found to have occurred, officers are frequently able to avoid meaningful consequences due to an opaque, drawn out and unscrutinized disciplinary process. …
The enduring issue of CPD officers acquiring a large number of Complaint Registers ("CRs") remains a problem that must be addressed immediately. From 2007-2015, over 1,500 CPD officers acquired 10 or more CRs, 65 of whom accumulated 30 or more CRs. It is important to note that these numbers do not reflect the entire disciplinary history (e.g., pre-2007) of these officers.
Any one of these metrics in isolation is troubling, but taken together, the only conclusion that can be reached is that there is no serious embrace by CPD leadership of the need to make accountability a core value. These statistics give real credibility to the widespread perception that there is a deeply entrenched code of silence supported not just by individual officers, but by the very institution itself. The absence of accountability benefits only the problem officer and undermines officers who came into the job for the right reasons and remain dedicated to serving and protecting.
8) The lack of official accountability costs Chicago a lot of money
It is bad enough that the task force concludes there is a pattern of racism in the Chicago police force. But on top of it all, it seems like the police department's abuses cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year.
The report is very clear on why this is: "Simply put, there is no ownership of the issue within CPD leadership or elsewhere, and thus there have been no substantive efforts to address these problems, which continue to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year. These figures demand immediate change."