It took us a while, but we finally read every word of the 164-page U.S. Department of Justice report on the Chicago Police Department, which was released January 13. For an overview of its main findings, you can read our prior story. But here, we’d like to present a list of findings and anecdotes included in the report that were particularly interesting, surprising, or disturbing, some which have been overlooked by reporting elsewhere.
It’s important to note that most of the horrifying details you’ll read below are anecdotes, and don’t necessarily describe the actions and/or attitudes of Chicago’s entire 12,000-plus-member police force. However, taken together, this patchwork of stories confirms details that many police reform advocates have been talking about for decades—a mosaic of behavior that can’t be written off as “one-off” or isolated events that don’t say anything about the culture of the department as a whole.
Though the DOJ report also highlights and commends instances of levelheaded professionalism and heroism, and says that this ethos is more representative of the vast majority of Chicago cops, these disturbing anecdotes paint a portrait of many Chicago police officers as violent, often racist cowboys prepared to beat even children and the mentally ill; of a department that inadequately trains, supervises, and disciplines them; and of an Independent Police Review Authority that allows this aggressive culture to flourish unchecked.
All incidents described below are according to the DOJ report.
On the sometimes racist and otherwise bad behavior of Chicago police officers:
- In the recorded use-of-force incidents for which race was indicated between January 2011 and April 2016, 76 percent of the cases involved black citizens. African-Americans were the subject of 80 percent of cops’ firearm use and 81 percent of their Taser use.
- Among some CPD officers, the DOJ found a “recurring portrayal” of black citizens as “as animals or subhuman. One CPD member told us that the officers in his district come to work every day ‘like it’s a safari.'”
- Between 2011 and 2016 CPD officers were reported calling citizens the N-word at least 354 separate times. Officers and supervisors were also reported for posting hateful, racist content on social media without reprimand. DOJ didn’t find a single complaint of racist speech that ended in an officer being fired.
- Cops sometimes “display” young people in rival gang territory (by, for example, opening the doors of their police cruisers and allowing people to approach and see the detained individual) as a tactic to get them to cooperate with the police. The report also includes anecdotes of cops driving youth to a rival gang territory and leaving them there to make their way back home.
- Some cops run “guns for freedom” operations, in which they detain citizens for low-level offenses (such as not using a turn signal) and threaten them with serious charges unless the individuals provide the officers with guns taken off the streets. In one case documented by the DOJ, a man pulled into such a scheme actually had to go out and purchase a gun to give to cops, as he had no access to illegal weapons.
- The DOJ found numerous instances of cops shooting people’s dogs “that appeared to be unnecessary, retaliatory, or reckless.”
- And, the DOJ found numerous instances of cops responding to perceived insults by beating and threatening citizens.
- Some officers have beaten, tased, sicced their dogs on, threatened to kill and blow up the homes of, and/or pointed their guns at children as young as eight years old.
- Of the use-of-force incidents against children between January 2011 and April 2016, black children were on the receiving end in 83 percent of cases and Latino kids were in 14 percent of the cases.
- Some officers have also beaten women. In one case, officers surrounded a female sex worker, threw her on the ground, beat her, called her an animal, and threatened to kill her and her family. One officer told another to “tase her ten fucking times.” Their supervisors approved this use of force, according to the report. After the woman sued, the city paid out a $150,000 settlement.
- Some officers also use extreme physical violence against people with mental illnesses (to whom they refer as “mentals”). In one instance officers used a Taser on “an unarmed, naked, 65-year-old woman who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”
- Cops frequently use Tasers in “drive-stun” mode—which inflicts pain but doesn’t immobilize an individual, and hence isn’t effective for subduing individuals resisting arrest—on people who pose no threat. The report notes that “many agencies restrict the use of Tasers in drive-stun mode because it is less effective in minimizing threats and has a high potential for abuse.”
- Some supervisors (like sergeants) admitted that they don’t want to hold their subordinates accountable for misconduct because “no one wants to be the bad guy.”
- Some police officers and supervisors actively misdirect citizens attempting to file misconduct complaints.
- Between 2010 and 2016, 1,627 CPD officers, or approximately 14 percent, had five or more misconduct complaints on their records. Some had amassed 30 to 50 complaints in that time span.
- Relatives of homicide victims complained that some officers and supervisors act as though they don’t care about the deaths of their loved ones, and as if these deaths aren’t worth investigating.
- One Latino church in Pilsen was the target of hate crimes, such as graffiti reading “Rape and Kill Mexico,” six different times before CPD opened an investigation.
On the internal dysfunction of the police department and IPRA:
- The IPRA “mediation” process amounts to a sort of plea bargaining, where officers agree to milder discipline on lesser charges and provide cover for officers engaging in domestic violence as well as other kinds of misconduct.
- IPRA can’t begin an investigation into a shooting by an officer until CPD says it can.
- The active covering up of officer misconduct is “institutionalized” in the very process of IPRA investigations. For example, witness coaching by union attorneys is permitted during IPRA interviews.
- When interrogating officers accused of misconduct, IPRA interviewers “asked officers leading questions about whether they experience ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘auditory exclusion’ that might impair their ability to provide a completely accurate account. We were told that such questions are asked because stress can impair sense perception. However, strikingly, IPRA does not pose the same leading questions to civilians—not even civilians such as crime victims wounded by gunfire.”
- When video or other hard evidence contradicts officers’ accounts of what happened in use-of-force situations, the evidence often doesn’t matter to IPRA. For example, “a woman exited her car and placed her hands on her vehicle when officers threw her to the ground, hit her, and deployed a Taser against her. The video indicates that the officer’s claim that she had refused to show her hands, thus justifying the force used, was false. Despite the existence of the video, IPRA deemed the force reasonable.”
- To protect cops from facing consequences for their misbehavior, IPRA is even prepared to throw officers’ families under the bus. In one instance, the wife of an officer, who had been physically abused by her husband for 19 years, called the police after the officer pointed a gun at her and their son. The cop claimed his son threatened him with a barbecue fork and punched him. “Throughout the case summary report, the investigator credited the officer’s version of events and said, despite two contrary witnesses and the officer’s history of domestic abuse, that because the officer claimed the alleged events did not occur, there was not enough evidence to sustain any of the allegations of misconduct.”
- Black and brown people’s complaints against cops don’t get taken as seriously as those filed by white people. While less than 2 percent of all complaints filed with IPRA are sustained, complaints made by black citizens are two and half times less likely to be sustained than complaints made by white citizens.
- Even if IPRA wasn’t actively engaging in protecting officers accused of misconduct, the severe lack of resources at the agency creates a situation in which not fully pursuing all investigations is the only realistic way for staff to work.
- High-ranking department members call CPD’s training program “terrible” and a “hot mess.”
- There are only about 60 to 75 training officers to provide one-on-one training on the streets to new graduates of the police academy—at least three times fewer than is appropriate and recommended for a department of this size
- CPD regularly assigns fresh academy graduates, who are awaiting a training officer to become available, to patrol the most dangerous “hot zone” neighborhoods.
- Some of CPD’s training sessions take place in old, unsecured facilities—including one near an elementary school—where loaded guns are left around unattended.
- Whereas the nationally recommended number of patrol officers under a supervisor’s watch is between seven and ten, CPD supervisors are sometimes in charge of between 24 and 40 officers.
- The department’s mental health counselor-to-officer ratio is 1:4,000.
- CPD officers’ suicide rate is 60 percent higher than the national average.
- Between 2003 and 2016 CPD failed to administer a single promotional exam for detective positions.
- In 2016, CPD’s homicide clearance rate, which indicates whether at least one suspect has been arrested for the killing, was just 29 percent—less than half the national average.
- There are only two hate crimes investigators for the entire city.
- Chicago’s policing strategy often seems to be developed not from industry best practices and scientific, evidence-based principles, but from intuition, tradition, and pseudo-science. In one department meeting the DOJ observed, “officers were told to go out and make a lot of car stops because vehicles are involved in shootings. There was no discussion about, or apparent consideration of, whether such a tactic was an effective use of police resources to identify possible shooters.” A district commander also told DOJ that “his policing philosophy in areas with violence is to make arrests because that was how he ‘was brought up.'”
- Just as Mayor Rahm Emanuel was closing the city’s mental health clinics, CPD also reduced the number of people in its Crisis Intervention Team, which is trained to handle encounters with people who might be having a mental health crisis.
On the city’s understanding, awareness of, and abatement of bad policing:
- The city keeps no systematic records about how many people are shot by police officers. However, the DOJ was able to establish that between January 2011 and March 2016, 223 civilians were shot by police in 203 separate incidents.
- Even though in some instances officers have fired as many as 45 rounds to apprehend suspects, the city does not investigate “no hit” shootings, when cops fire their guns but CPD isn’t aware of anyone being injured or killed by them—yet there were at least 22 such police shootings between January 2011 and March 2016.
- The city pays out settlements in misconduct allegations it doesn’t itself investigate through IPRA.