The Justice Department announced Monday that it has opened an investigation into the Chicago Police Department’s use of force to see if there are any patterns of civil rights violations.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the investigation will focus on racial, ethnic and other disparities in the use of force and the department’s systems of accountability.
“Our goal in this investigation – as in all of our pattern-or-practice investigations – is not to focus on individuals, but to improve systems, to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need – including training, policy guidance and equipment – to be more effective, to partner with civilians and to strengthen public safety,” she said during a morning press conference.
The investigation, led by attorneys from the Civil Rights Division with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, will rely on interviews with community members including police and other legal and civilian officials, observing officer activity on the job, and reviewing documents and incidents.
“If we discover unconstitutional patterns or practices, the Department of Justice will announce them publicly, seek a court-enforceable agreement with the Chicago Police Department and work with the city to implement appropriate reforms,” Lynch said.
Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, said he welcomes the investigation and pledged the city’s complete cooperation.
“Our mutual goal is to create a stronger, better Police Department that keeps the community safe while respecting the civil rights of every Chicagoan,” he said in a statement following the announcement.
The goal for the Justice Department is to alleviate tensions between Chicago police and the communities they serve following the release of a video of an October 2014 incident in which a white officer shot a black teen 16 times. Both the attorney general and the city’s mayor cited “trust” as the need for the investigation.
Leading up to the announcement, Emanuel fired the department’s superintendent, Garry McCarthy, in an effort to re-build “trust and confidence” between police and the public.
However, Emanuel was at first resistant to a DOJ investigation, calling the effort redundant. On Dec. 1, along with announcing McCarthy’s dismissal, his administration created a task force with identical goals as the Justice Department. The task force would review the system of accountability, oversight and training currently in place for Chicago’s police officers.
The Justice Department along with state officials has been investigating the initial incident, the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, since April 2015. The federal investigation remains active and ongoing.