Justice Department Rushes to Complete Probe of CPD

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaking at CPD Academy during a press conference. Photo credit: Mary L. Datcher

Justice Department Rushes to Complete Probe of CPD

The U.S. Justice Department is rushing to wrap up its yearlong civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, according to news reports.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch launched the investigation in December 2015 after a videotape that showed Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. The investigation aimed to find a “pattern of practice” of alleged civil rights violations as Chicago Police used deadly force on civilians.

Federal officials are expected to release a “findings letter,” according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

With Trump’s inauguration fast approaching, the newspaper reported that the city and Justice Department are expected to sign an “agreement in principle” instead of a consent decree, which is a settlement agreement approved by a federal judge. At least 16 police departments in various cities are currently working under a consent decree. U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been nominated to be the next attorney general, has publicly said he opposes consent decrees.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel told NBC 5 Chicago that he‘s determined to implement any reforms recommended by the Justice Department whether or not Trump and Sessions pursue a consent decree.

“From the moment I put the task force [on police accountability] together, I have made the changes and continue to make changes in training, technology and transparency that I think are important to giving our officers the certainty they need to do what’s important,” Emanuel said.

While the “finding letters” may not be as tough as a consent decree, Emanuel still must find a way to rebuild trust between the police and the communities they serve. Since the McDonald video, he has walked a tightrope as Chicago police struggle to balance community policing with diplomacy while the city remains in the national spotlight for its high number of shootings and murders.

Reforms at Local Level

As part of Emanuel’s own attempts to reform the police force, the Independent Police Review Authority will soon be replaced with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). The city has also released video that contains audio of police-involved shootings while acting swiftly on stripping officers of their police powers after questionable shootings.

Laquan McDonald's, graduation photo alongside officer Jason Van Dyke's mug shot
Laquan McDonald’s, graduation photo alongside officer Jason Van Dyke’s mug shot

The news of the Justice Department probe came after Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said he met with Sessions, who reportedly said he an wasn’t prepared to commit to enforcing implementing whatever findings the Justice Department will release. Sessions reportedly said that he wanted to study the findings more and “understand it better.”

With the Republican majority in the Senate, Session stands a good chance of getting confirmed as attorney general. But many Black leaders are concerned that the ultraconservative Sessions will “clean house” at the Justice Department. Session is a staunch supporter of law enforcement and has conservative views on criminal justice reform.

Since he was nominated by Trump last month, Sessions has come under fire for his past racial remarks against Blacks and civil rights leaders. On  Jan. 3, NAACP President Cornell Williams and five other civil right leaders were arrested during a sit-in at Sessions’ office. The leaders demanded that Sessions withdraw his name for consideration for attorney general. Over a thousand law school professors in the country sent lawmakers in Congress a letter asking them to reject Sessions’ confirmation. Despite the outcry, Sessions remains determined to become the nation’s most powerful attorney .

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