The Slatest

The Chicago Police Department Is Having a Devastatingly Bad Week

Police stand guard in front of the City of Chicago Public Safety Headquarters during a protest over the killing of Laquan McDonald on Dec 1, 2015, in Chicago.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine how things could possibly get worse for the Chicago Police Department; the division has faced withering public criticism and a federal civil rights investigation for its deeply discriminatory and deadly policing tactics. Then this week came along and brought with it an avalanche of damning news, including: A leaked draft of a scathing internal report that raises existential questions about the police force, the latest installment in a blockbuster investigative series by the Guardian alleging instances of torture and even murder at secretive police facility at Homan Square, and a police shooting of a black 16-year-old high school student that ignited another round of outrage and protests in a community that’s already deeply distrustful of the police force that’s meant to protect them. It’s been another damning week for the CPD, and it’s only Wednesday.

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The overarching problems facing the CPD were laid out Wednesday in the Police Accountability Task Force report. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel commissioned the report following the release of the video showing a Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times last November. The task force’s final report is expected soon, but the Chicago Tribune got hold of a draft copy of the report’s 18-page executive summary. The report lays bare a police department that has lost touch with the community and has equipped itself with mechanisms to shield misconduct and even perpetuate it.

Here’s a sampling of the report (via the Tribune):

“Reform is possible if there is a will and a commitment. But where reform must begin is with an acknowledgment of the sad history and present conditions which have left the people totally alienated from the police, and afraid for their physical and emotional safety,” the draft report reads…

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“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,” the report states. “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.”

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One of the primary recommendations to come from the draft report is the abolition of the current shambolic mechanism of investigating police misconduct altogether.

… Almost since its inception, there have been questions about whether the [Independent Police Review Authority] performed its work fairly, competently, with rigor and independence. The answer is no. Cases go uninvestigated, the agency lacks resources and IPRA’s findings raise troubling concerns about whether it is biased in favor of police officers. Up until recently, the agency has been run by former law enforcement, who allowed leadership to reverse findings without creating any record of the changes. IPRA has lost the trust of the community, which it cannot function without.”

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The police union contract contributes to the problem because it values officer protections above public accountability. The contract, as well as state law, prohibits anonymous complaints, requires affidavits from people wishing to file complaints and provides accused officers with the complainant’s name early in the process.

The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman also continued the paper’s investigation of the CPD this week, reporting that internal Chicago PD documents describe behavior that could credibly be described as torture. The Guardian began reporting last year on the use of the Homan Square warehouse as essentially a domesitc “black site” where police could employ extrajudicial tactics on predominantly black suspects without oversight. The CPD has denied the paper’s conclusions. After suing under the Freedom of Information Act, the Guardian reported this week that there is documentation that at least 14 men were beaten while in police custody there.

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Police used punches, knee strikes, elbow strikes, slaps, wrist twists, baton blows and Tasers at Homan Square, according to documents released to the Guardian in the course of its transparency lawsuit about the warehouse. The new information contradicts an official denial about treatment of prisoners at the facility. The injured men are among at least 7,351 peoplemore than 6,000 of them black – who, police documents show, have been detained and interrogated at Homan Square without a public notice of their whereabouts or access to an attorney. None of the men identified in these newest documents had fled custody or were injured in the course of a lawful arrest. All were subject to force by Chicago police officers after they were already in custody at Homan Square. According to depositions with officers and more than two dozen first-hand accounts, handcuffing is standard. Police applied force to some arrestees sufficient enough to warrant hospitalization.

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The most serious is the mysterious death of Jaime Galvan. Arrested for dealing drugs, Galvan was taken to Homan Square, where friends and family say he was beaten to death by police, who then covered up the crime.

To further compound the misery and anger of revisiting these past injustices, a black 16-year-old high school student was shot to death Monday scaling a fence while apparently running from police in the Homan Square neighborhood. Police said the shooting was the result of an “armed confrontation” after the car Pierre Loury was a passenger in matched the description of a car linked to an earlier shooting. Police said the lone officer in pursuit of Loury opened fire and shot him in the chest after Loury turned and pointed a gun at the officer. Police said a semi-automatic rifle was recovered from the scene. Loury’s family disputes the CPD’s account of what happened and once again the local community took to the streets to protest. The case has been referred to the Independent Police Review Authority.

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