U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch announced a federal civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department Monday. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

The thing about the proposed Justice Department examination of Chicago’s police force, which the mayor called misguided before he said he welcomed it, is that it sounds less like a housecleaning than a whitewash. The mayor has already thrown the police superintendent off the back of the wagon. But Justice could turn the whole force inside out without getting to the root of the problem.

As if there were a root, a single point to chop to make the weed shrivel and die. Fat chance of that.

“There was no good reason for the video to remain under wraps for 13 months,” said  the Tribune editorial page Friday, speaking of the killing of Laquan McDonald. “Why did the investigation drag on that long?” Good question, but the state’s attorney’s office isn’t part of the police force. 

And why, asked the Tribune, is secrecy the “default response” of the mayor’s office when the media ask questions about such roiling matters as McDonald’s death? But City Hall isn’t part of the police force either.

A front-page story in Sunday’s Tribune—whose first section, including the editorial pages, was virtually a Laquan McDonald special section—got to the point: Chicago police officers “enforce a code of silence to protect one another.” Their union further “protects them from rigorous scrutiny.” The Independent Police Review Authority “is slow, overworked, and, according to its many critics, biased in favor of the police.”

And beyond the force are prosecutors who “almost never bring charges against officers in police shooting cases.” And ultimately there is City Hall itself, which has such a “keen interest in minimizing potential scandal” that it will pay the victims of police misconduct “millions of dollars to prevent information from becoming public.”

Said the Sun-Times editorial page, “A proper Justice Department investigation would drill deep into difficult issues such as racial bias within the Chicago Police Department, the appropriate use of deadly forces, and a blue code of silence that makes accountability a joke.” 

But why does everyone who nominally oversees the police department put up with this code of silence? Why do judge after judge, state’s attorney after state’s attorney, and mayor after mayor go along and get along?

Is this the brotherhood of a tribal city where the prosecutors used to be cops and the judges used to be prosecutors? Or as I asked the other day, is it fear? There might not be enough cops in Chicago to police it properly, but there seem to be more than enough to intimidate the people who run it. 

A Justice Department probe into what’s wrong with the police department that stops with the police department would be like an overhaul of the police department that thinks it’s enough to fire the current superintendent and bring on the next one. An investigation that drills deep enough to matter would drill past the dysfunctional CPD into the civic bedrock that enables it.