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9 Big Takeaways From Report On Racism And Misconduct In Chicago's Police Department

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Apr 14, 2016 6:34PM

By Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist

A full 183-page report from the city's Police Accountability Task Force on recommendations for reform was released Wednesday, and it didn't sugarcoat anything. The report patently states that the public's mistrust in the Chicago Police Department is justified, and drastic changes—including the abolition of the city's Independent Police Review Agency—are direly necessary and long overdue.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel assembled the task force in December following the delayed release of video footage of Laquan McDonald's fatal shooting by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Establishing a task force may was a time-biding political move for Emanuel, whose administration nearly crumbled under the backlash garnered from the McDonald incident; but he may not have anticipated how searing and unforgiving the report would be. In a press conference Wednesday, Emanuel said that he was "open to look at everything" in the report. This response leaves community members skeptical: Black Youth Project 100 national director Charlene A. Carruthers told The New York Times, "I do not have confidence that the task force or the mayor’s office will take bold enough steps.”

The mayor can only tread water for so long: The task force provided a set of lengthy checklists of its overarching recommendations, which, if implemented, would mean a complete overhaul of the department. Based on the outrage of the citizens of Chicago, whose stories are outlined and quoted throughout the task force's report, an overhaul is probably the only thing that might restore the citizens' faith in the city.

The report seems to leave no stone unturned in its coverage—everything from historical context to training practices to video policy to accountability (and plenty of other subjects) are exhaustively investigated. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, though, here are some of the most important points to take away:

1. Racial bias is not a question; it is pretty much a fact. Not only did the report say that the task force repeatedly heard community members say that some CPD officers are racist, it provided startling data to justify that idea. According to the report, 74 percent of the 404 police shootings between 2008 and 2015 struck African Americans. Of the 1,886 taser discharges between 2012 and 2015, African Americans were the target of 76 percent. For some context, Chicago is 31.7 percent white, 32.9 percent black, and 28.9 percent Hispanic.

"Racism and maltreatment at the hands of the police have been consistent complaints from communities of color for decades," the report said. It mentioned the killing of Fred Hampton, the Metcalfe hearings, federal court findings of a practice of discriminatory hiring, the criminal ex-police commander Jon Burge, widespread disorderly conduct arrests, an unconstitutional gang loitering ordinance, investigatory stops and frisks, false arrests, and coerced confessions as just a few examples of the CPD's racial history.

2. The city's current contracts with police unions are doing more harm than good. The report called for immediate changes to clauses in the contract that ban anonymous citizen complaints, prevent the department from rewarding officers who turn in colleagues who break the rules, and "make it easy for officers to lie in official reports." Contracts with the union have allowed for what Emanuel has called "the code of silence" to become policy standard. "The code of silence is institutionalized and reinforced by CPD rules and policies that are also baked into the labor agreements between the various police unions and the City," the report said.

3. It's time to dissolve the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). The IPRA, established under Mayor Richard M. Daley to replace another internal oversight committee, is tasked with overseeing the most serious claims of police conduct. There have been longstanding questions around whether the agency acts fairly. The IPRA has shown repeated failure to investigate some of the most critical police misconduct cases, and has also failed to carry out consequential discipline. The report found that the IPRA is widely perceived as favoring the police.

"IPRA has lost the trust of the community, which it cannot function without," the report said. A civilian police investigative agency (with full transparency) was recommended as a replacement.

4. Police officers need to prioritize mental health training. There is a longstanding history of the mishandling of people who suffer from mental health crises. Police should be trained in de-escalation before they resort to the use of force. Due to the Department of Justice's ongoing investigation of the CPD, the task force was not able to conduct much analysis of the CPD's use-of-force practices, but they were able to track situations in which police officers were called upon to intervene with citizens experiencing extreme mental health problems or breakdowns; too often, officers were not trained in deescalation techniques, and resorted to force.

"In the worst case scenario, officers, the person in crisis or bystanders may get hurt or killed. At best, unnecessary escalation results in a stressful interaction and often an arrest of the person in crisis for behavior that occurred as a result of the police encounters) and entry into the criminal justice system," the report said. To combat this problem, the task force recommended a unit specifically tasked with handling mental health issues.

5. There should be a Deputy Chief of Diversity and Inclusion in CPD. The fact that CPD does not have a specific job title for managing diversity and inclusion efforts is a downright embarrassment, according to the report. The task force recommended that the new deputy position be given sufficient support staff in order to work toward minority recruitment and promotion efforts. the Deputy Chief of Diversity and Inclusion would also oversee how the CPD has implemented the Task Force's recommendations around race, and would hold police accountable for the ways in which the actions of the CPD affect minority citizens.

6. Community awareness and engagement need to be central to policing. The Task Force pointed out that the national President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing states that policing “should be infused throughout the culture and organizational structure of law enforcement agencies.” Likewise, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Orientated Policing Services advocates that police departments “adopt community service as the overarching philosophy of the organization” and make “an institutional commitment to community policing that is internalized throughout the command structure.” The task force recommended that 22 of the city's police districts be designated as "Community Empowerment and Engagement Districts (CEED)," which would require commanders and officers to engage with local stakeholders and collaborate on strategies for reducing crime.

7. Every officer needs a body camera. Body cameras are an effective preventative tool to impede police misconduct because they promote transparency and accountability. It has also been found that the presence of body cameras can de-escalate encounters on both ends. The report references a quote from Marc Buslik, the commander in charge of CPD's body camera pilot program: “When they know they are being recorded, both sides, everything becomes less intense.” The CPD is already using some body cameras, but given the great results body cameras have shown nationwide, total implementation should be prioritized. Body cameras are expensive, but as the report pointed out, "To the extent body cameras improve officer behavior, they also could help pay for themselves by reducing the more than $600 million the City has paid to resolve police misconduct cases since 2004."

8. Chicago needs a functional mediation program. The CPD has a history of misconduct, and many citizens are still suffering from the fallout of police officers behaving badly. Other cities have already implemented programs like this, and have seen a high rate of satisfaction among community members involved. Mediation methods involve face-to-face meetings between civilians who bring complaints and the police who are the subject of the complaints. People need to feel recognized and heard when they have been hurt.

"Studies of complainants’ goals indicate that few want to see the officer punished, but many instead just want to report the incident, desire an apology or explanation from the officer or would like to meet in person and express themselves to the officer," the report said.

9. Empowerment needs prioritization. The citizens of the city of Chicago should not feel less safe when they see police officers; unfortunately, that is often the case, especially among people of color. The city owes its citizens a sincere apology, which names its own history of injustice and takes ownership over them, the report says. The task force said that the superintendent should publicly acknowledge CPD's history of racial disparity and discrimination. In addition to the community oversight board suggested to replace the IPRA and the establishment of CEEDs, citywide summits should be held to develop comprehensive criminal justice reform, the city should introduce a protocol allowing people who have been arrested to make phone calls to an attorney or family members within an hour of arrest, and youth should be provided with a citywide "Know Your Rights" training.