US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has launched a civil rights probe into the use of force by Chicago police. The announcement follows the release of a 2014 video which shows the death of a black teen shot by police.
The US Department of Justice announced on Monday that a federal civil rights investigation has been launched into the Chicago Police Department (CPD). The investigation will look for evidence of unconstitutional policing practices within one of the nation's largest police forces.
"Our investigation is focused on use of force and accountability," said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. "Specifically, we will examine a number of issues related to the CPD'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."
Should unconstitutional practices be found, the Justice Department will seek court-enforced reforms of the police force, Lynch added.
The announcement comes after the release of a 2014 police dashboard video which shows white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black teenager, 16 times. Prosecutors said that Van Dyke opened fire on the teen just 30 seconds after his cruiser arrived at the scene, and a mere six seconds after he stepped out of it. McDonald, who was holding a knife at the time, continued to be shot after he fell to the ground.
The video's release and the city's handling of the case prompted almost two weeks of protests in Chicago last month. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder on November 24.
"We understand that the same systems that fail community members also fail conscientious officers by creating mistrust between law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect," said Lynch. "And when suspicion and hostility is allowed to fester, it can erupt into unrest."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel initially disagreed with calls for a federal civil rights investigation, saying it would be "misguided." He later reversed his position and said on Monday that he pledged Chicago's "complete cooperation" with the federal investigation.
"Our mutual goal is to create a stronger, better police department that keeps the community safe while respecting the civil rights of every Chicagoan," he said.
Emanuel forced Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to resign last week, saying public trust in his leadership was "shaken and eroded." Protesters have also called for Emanuel to resign, but he said he will not step down.
Recent deaths of black men at the hands of mostly white police officers have led to an outcry in the US and prompted a debate about the use of excessive force by the police.
Other high-profile investigations have also been launched into police departments in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Cleveland, Ohio, following similar incidents.
Last December, the Justice Department's investigation found that the police in Cleveland systematically used excessive force.
rs/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)