An Eye Opening Investigation Into Chicago’s Police Department
There is no question that the relationship between the community and police has deteriorated as a result of recent use of force cases. Our New York police brutality lawyers know that whether the use of deadly force is deemed justified or unjustified, the gap between police and public seems to grow. Too often cases which are rules justified, really did cross the line and the failure to punish heavy handed officers sends the message that they are above the law and will not be punished, which in turn leads to more excessive force. In Chicago, multiple excessive force complaints, coupled with public outcry and protest, have lead to an extensive investigation into the city’s police department and the circumstances surrounding different use of force cases.
A year-long investigation into the Chicago Police Department revealed “systematic” violations of the civil rights of Chicago citizens. The investigation uncovered multiple deadly force cases in which the individual posed no threat to police, copious amounts of evidence suggesting the unlawful use of less than lethal force, and racially discriminatory behavior.
In one use of deadly force case, a video captured a man shot in the back after a foot pursuit. The man was determined to not have been a threat yet the officer fired sixteen rounds at the man, killing him. A dashboard camera captured the same officer standing over the man and firing off three rounds into the man’s back. The officer fabricated his report claiming that the man “charged with an apparent firearm,” which was quickly disputed by the video evidence. Our New York lawyers have long fought against fabricated cases which officers use contrived evidence to justify their behavior.
The investigation was not limited to fatal shootings and looked into less than lethal use of force. The term “less than lethal” refers the use of tools or weapons, such as a taser or baton, designed to briefly subdue an individual to allow the officer to gain control of the situation. Although these items are characterized as “less than lethal” they still have the ability to kill if used incorrectly, excessively, or if something randomly goes wrong. Police are trained to do what is necessary to control the scene all while using the least amount of force necessary. This can be difficult to balance and it can be even more difficult for police to make a split second decision in a chaotic situation that will be scrutinized later, at a time when the scenario can be discussed and ran through multiple times.
The investigation revealed that some officers were using less than lethal force for convenience as opposed to necessity. In one incident, a suspected thief ran from a store and was shot with a taser causing him to fall, hit his head, and die. The officer took action in a split second in an attempt to apprehend a thief and reacted by using a taser instead of giving chase. Although the use of force was deemed justified, the investigation categorized the use of the taser as “unnecessary.”
It was also determined that officers used force against minorities ten times more than against whites. The investigation stated that force was most prominently used in the “most challenged” neighborhoods. Although crime rates may be higher in these “challenged” areas, a citizen’s constitutional protections are infringed upon when an officer determines the level of force to be utilized is based on the area being policed and not the specific situation an officer is confronting.
Another unsettling revelation was the discriminatory behavior by Police when interacting with the community. Discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and national origin was confirmed by officers within the department attesting to the racist remarks made by other officers. Victims of this discrimination were interviewed during the investigation and, understandably, felt dehumanized by Police which only served to further the “us versus them” mentality.
The multiple accounts of unjustified deadly and non-deadly force as well as the discriminatory behavior were accredited to insufficient training and a lack of accountability. Police are constantly trained and maintain certifications in order to qualify them to perform their jobs. However, the investigation determined that Chicago’s insufficient teaching and outdated material was only hurting its officers. For example, the department’s use of force class included a thirty-five year old video tape explaining outdated information concerning the reasonableness of use of force. Further, new police recruits were being trained in the academy through hours of Powerpoint presentation instead of more complex hands on training simply to “check” a box required for the curriculum.
In situations where improper use of force or procedure was complained of it was simply swept under the rug. It was determined that only two percent of the 30,000 police misconduct complaints were actually investigated. The department’s oversight and failure to hold its officers accountable for misconduct undoubtedly contributed to the repetitive cycle of police wrongdoing.
What this investigation has uncovered is eyeopening to say the least and without question will lead to changes of policy and staff within the Chicago Police Department. Hopefully this investigation will allow other departments to learn from these mistakes and improve their departments as well as work to bridge the gap between the community and police.