Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday announced a broad Department of Justice civil rights investigation into the Chicago police department, following protests over the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and the release of police video showing his death.
The investigation will look into whether the department “engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the constitution or federal law,” Lynch said in a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday, adding that building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve is one of her highest priorities as Attorney General.
“Specifically, we will examine a number of issues related to the Chicago police department’s use of force, including its use of deadly force; racial, ethnic and other disparities in its use of force; and its accountability mechanisms, such as its disciplinary actions and its handling of allegations of misconduct,” Lynch said.
Last month, after a judge’s order, Chicago city officials released an October 2014 dashcam video of McDonald’s death. Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times, was charged with murder.
Following the release of the video, multiple demonstrations erupted in the streets of downtown Chicago, with protesters criticizing city officials for taking 13 months to make the video public. Mayor Rahm Emanuel argued that he did not release the recording because he did not want to interfere with the investigation.
Last week, Emanuel announced that police superintendent Garry McCarthy had resigned.
“Our goal in this investigation – as in all of our pattern-or-practice investigations – is not to focus on individuals, but to improve systems,” Lynch said. “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.”
The Justice Department is already probing McDonald’s death, but Lynch’s announcement Monday constitutes a much broader investigation.
Under President Obama, the Justice Department has investigated police departments in at least 22 jurisdictions in civil rights investigations.
“The team will meet with a broad cross-section of community members, city officials, and law enforcement command staff and officers to explain our process and to hear from anyone who wishes to share information relevant to the investigation,” Lynch said. “We will examine, with our experts, policies, practices and data.”
If the investigation reveals unconstitutional patterns or practices, the Department of Justice will seek a court-enforceable agreement with the Chicago police department and work with the city to implement reforms, she said.