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Chicago Police Department Must Acknowledge Racist Past, Task Force Says


If the Chicago Police Department is going to have a healthy relationship with minority communities, then it must face some hard truths and acknowledge its racist past. Those tough words today from Chicago's task force on police accountability. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed this panel following the release of a video that showed a white police officer shooting and killing a black teenager. The task force is now making sweeping recommendations to reform the nation's third-largest police department, and NPR's David Schaper joins us from Chicago to discuss this report. Hi David.


SHAPIRO: The shooting of Laquan McDonald, the one we mentioned in that video, is not the only incident of its kind in Chicago. What are some of the panel's findings today?

SCHAPER: Well, in this scathing report, the panel points that out exactly. The task force takes direct, sharp aim at a culture within the Chicago Police Department that it says is rooted in racism, adding that the CPD's leadership is not doing enough to combat racial bias.

The task force says this is a problem that did not just bubble up to the surface in the aftermath of the release of the Laquan McDonald video. In fact, racism and maltreatment at the hands of police has been consistent from - in terms of complaints from communities of color for decades. Lori Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor who served as chairwoman of this police accountability task force, and she says the members held several community meetings and conducted scores of interviews before reaching this conclusion.


LORI LIGHTFOOT: And one of the consistent themes that we heard from people all across the city was that they feel like the police do not respect their humanity. Many people said that they believe that the police that they encountered were fundamentally racist.

SCHAPER: The report goes on to say that the - being stopped without justification, being exposed to verbal and physical abuse, being detained without access to counsel, it's all a history that has ended up fueling false arrests, coerced confessions, wrongful convictions and has led to lives lost and countless more damage. So the task force report says reform can only begin with the Chicago Police Department acknowledging this long sad history, as well as present conditions which have left people totally alienated from the police and afraid for their safety.

SHAPIRO: Well, what does the report recommend the police department do now?

SCHAPER: Well, some of the key recommendations focus specifically on accountability. And one of the key divisions of that is eliminating what is called the Independent Police Review Authority. This is the agency that investigates all police shootings and allegations of police misconduct. And they want to replace it with a new and fully-transparent and accountable civilian police investigative agency.

The task force members say there is a fundamental lack of accountability and a stunning lack of transparency within the Chicago Police Department. And as a result, it is badly broken. Since its inception more than a decade ago, the agency has been criticized for incompetence, incomplete investigations and being heavily biased in favor of the police and rarely if ever holding police officers accountable for their wrongful conduct. So there's a whole long list of other changes in terms of training and accountability measures, and some of those focus on the collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago police union, which often serves to protect and in fact codify a code of silence that exists within the Chicago Police Department.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, David, what's the reaction been from Mayor Emanuel?

SCHAPER: Mayor Emanuel is applauding the task force efforts, say he'll take it under review and see what kind of recommendations they can implement. I should say that the mayor had his choice for new police superintendent approved by the City Council today. Eddie Johnson is 27-year veteran of the police department. And his major task going forward is going to sort through these recommendations and see what can be implemented rather quickly and what's going to take some time to get into implementation.

SHAPIRO: All right, that's NPR's David Schaper. Thanks David.

SCHAPER: Thanks Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.