First step in fixing Chicago police: Acknowledge racism

A "scathing" new report calls for major changes in the Chicago Police Department.

A “scathing” new report calls for major changes in the Chicago Police Department.

Chicago is one of many big cities facing a lack of faith in its police force. The reasons for this are myriad, neighborhood by neighborhood. Now a new task force report says bluntly that the department must face its racist history.

Although the entire report is not yet released, an 18-page executive summary calls the Chicago Police Department a “broken” system. It recommends abolishing the flawed body that investigates allegations of officer misconduct, the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA. It also backs a citywide process with the superintendent “publicly acknowledging CPD’s history of racial disparity and discrimination.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed the task force in response to public protests after the release of a video showing a Chicago police officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Although McDonald died right away, the “investigation” into the shooting took more than a year and was only finished after a judge ordered the video to be released.

Some recriminations were swift even though they were long after the fact. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged the shooting officer, Jason Van Dyke, with first-degree murder. Emanuel fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Alvarez lost the March Democratic primary for state’s attorney.

But the reaction to the Laquan McDonald video — indeed, the reaction to the whole history of the CPD — is ongoing.

The Chicago Tribune obtained a draft of the executive summary, and it’s damning.

“Reform is possible if there is a will and a commitment. But where reform must begin is with an acknowledgment of the sad history and present conditions which have left the people totally alienated from the police, and afraid for their physical and emotional safety,” according to the draft report. “And while many individuals and entities have a role to play, the change must start with CPD. CPD cannot begin to build trust, repair what is broken and tattered unless — from the top leadership on down — it faces these hard truths, acknowledges what it has done at the individual and institutional levels and earnestly reaches out with respect.”

There’s a second — unfortunately, all too related — problem in Chicago. The number of shootings has skyrocketed since the release of the Laquan McDonald video, even as the number of arrests has plunged.

FBI Director James Comey echoed big city police chiefs in calling the spike in crime and the drop in arrests the “Ferguson effect” because police are afraid of being caught on camera, even though that interpretation is far from being universally shared. Chicago Mayor Emanuel said police officers had “gone fetal,” in effect second-guessing themselves. The president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police described police morale in an NPR interview as being “the lowest I’ve seen in my career. … No one wants to be on that next video.”

FiveThirtyEight.com did a statistical analysis of the number of shootings vs. the number of arrests, and the results are downright frightening:

The severe spike in gun violence Chicago is experiencing can be dated to the release of the video in the Laquan McDonald case, a FiveThirtyEight analysis of crime data shows. The same analysis shows that the city has seen a significant drop in arrests made for homicides and nonfatal shootings, as well as other crimes, since the video’s release on Nov. 24. This suggests a decline in law enforcement activity that may be contributing to the rise in gun crime.

The FiveThirtyEight analysis reports that police are “confused” by the new public scrutiny and that they are frustrated by what they see as “burdensome paperwork” requirements using a new system called the “Investigatory Stop Report.” This requirement is basically a small card and a two-sided, 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch sheet that’s supposed to be done electronically.

Yet the anonymous comments on a police blog called Second City Cop show the problems in the police attitude:

Used to stop the mutts hangin’ out all day on the corner and now… never again.

With this and when the body cameras come to more districts and when more officers are wearing them, recording their every move, it’ll be GAME OVER.

So when crime skyrockets but stops plummet they’ll just blame the police and claim it’s a ‘blue flu’. And things will continue…

Worse than a basic job application. Not a chance I do one of these. Stay fetal.

STAY FETAL!!! Don’t let anyone win a ghetto lottery at your expense.

“Ghetto lottery.” As if the families of those killed by police are just itching to collect money and don’t care about the loss of a loved one. Many of the other comments from police officers on the blog are even worse. Let’s go back to the Tribune story on the task force report:

“The linkage between racism and CPD did not just bubble up in the aftermath of the release of the McDonald video. Racism and maltreatment at the hands of the police have been consistent complaints from communities of color for decades,” the report states. “False arrests, coerced confessions and wrongful convictions are also a part of this history. Lives lost and countless more damaged. These events and others mark a long, sad history of death, false imprisonment, physical and verbal abuse and general discontent about police actions in neighborhoods of color.” …

The task force noted it heard from hundreds of city residents in four community forums, and that the portrait of CPD painted in those meetings was troubling. Many officers have no respect for minorities and approach them as if they are automatically criminal, the document states, noting a long history of problems between CPD and neighborhoods of color.

“The community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified,” the task force wrote, adding, “There is also substantial evidence that these experiences continue today through significant disparate impacts associated with the use of force, foot and traffic stops and bias in the police oversight system itself.”

So we have a report that clearly shows a dark history of police actions, and police officers saying (anonymously, at least), “I’m not doing my job if it means trouble and paperwork.” Meanwhile, from FiveThirtyEight (with lots of explanatory charts):

There have been 175 homicides and approximately 675 nonfatal shooting incidents from Dec. 1 through March 31, according to our analysis of city data. The 69 percent drop in the nonfatal shooting arrest rate and the 48 percent drop in the homicide arrest rate since the video’s release also cannot be explained by temperature or bad luck.

Here’s an anecdotal report from an African-American friend on the South Side: “Of course there’s lots of shootings. The gangs know the police aren’t going to do anything, so they shoot all the time. No one’s stopping them.”

This is from the Facebook page of the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the head of St. Sabina Church in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Longtime anti-violence activist Father Pfleger is never one to mince words.

Today, the Police Accountability Task Force will release a report saying what is no surprise…that the Chicago Police Department is deeply rooted in institutional Racism and a code of silence when it comes to police Misconduct. It also says that IPRA should be abolished because it is ineffective…….The Question now is whether the City and Police Dept. have the courage to admit it, address it and end it? Of course the FOP is already calling it flawed….what a surprise……This is an opportunity to make change, I hope we don’t miss it…..

It’s long past time for IPRA to be replaced by a truly independent Police Auditor’s Office and time to pass a FAIR COPS ordinance. Here is a complete description of those proposals in a post from last winter.

It’s only April, with lots of warm weather to come. How many more will be shot and killed, and how many won’t be arrested for it? How will the people of Chicago learn to trust the police again?

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