The Chicago Police Department has a history of corruption, brutality and torture dating back decades. But the pressure for reform has ratcheted up since 2015, when a police video withheld by the city for more than a year showed an officer executing a black teenager named Laquan McDonald on the street — contradicting the official story that the young man had been killed while menacing officers with a knife. The officer was finally charged with murder — but only after a judge ordered the video released.
A Justice Department investigation has since found that the police routinely used excessive force against black and Latino citizens. The effort to remake this deeply troubled agency entered a new phase last week when a coalition of community groups — one representing families of people killed by police officers — was granted a formal role in a process that could soon produce a sweeping, court-enforceable police reform agreement. By including community groups, the city and the Illinois State attorney general — which have primary responsibility for forging the agreement — might overcome deeply held public skepticism about the department’s ability to change.
The Justice Department uncovered a number of cases, like the McDonald shooting, where the department accepted police versions of events that were later undercut by video. The investigation found that the city often failed to investigate cases.
If there was ever a police department that warranted federal supervision through a court-enforceable consent decree, this was it. Mayor Rahm Emanuel initially embraced that idea, but equivocated after the Trump administration made clear that it had no appetite for such agreements. Three different parties — two coalitions of community groups and the state attorney general, Lisa Madigan — sued the city, urging it to accept court oversight. As Ms. Madigan pointed out, Chicago had never had real police reform because it had never been mandated by an enforceable order.
The city had little choice but to embrace the lawsuit. The two parties are working out details about the use of force, training, supervision, accountability and other areas.
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