Chicago police force needs a cultural change - mayor

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2015 10:20 AM

By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago's 12,000-member police force, one of the biggest in the country and one of the most prone to use lethal force, needs a cultural change that will take time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Wednesday in an interview with Politico.

Emanuel fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on Tuesday and has launched a search for a replacement, following protests over the police killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African-American teenager, which was caught on video.

Jason Van Dyke, the white police officer who shot McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014, has been charged with murder and is out on bail.

Chicago has one of the highest murder rates of the biggest U.S. cities, with some 400 people killed every year in gun violence. And police have shot more than 50 people a year over the past seven years, significantly higher numbers for police shootings than in Los Angeles, New York City and Houston.

"We have had some reforms, but not to the level that has to change a department and a culture, and we also have to make a sustained effort to make the cultural change in attitude," Emanuel said during the interview with a panel of journalists before an audience that was also streamed live over the Internet.

Emanuel, who was elected to a second term in April, said in the interview that he had no plans to step down over the shooting and its aftermath.

The mayor has named a task force to make recommendations by March 31 on boosting independent oversight of police misconduct and making sure officers with repeated complaints are evaluated more quickly.

Van Dyke had at least 20 complaints of misconduct against him during his years on the force, but was never disciplined, according to the Invisible Institute transparency group.

The White House fended off questions on Wednesday about the shooting in President Barack Obama's hometown of Chicago, where the embattled mayor is his friend and former chief of staff.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it would be up to the U.S. Justice Department to file federal charges against the officer involved in the shooting.

Earnest cited similar shootings in cities across the country, including Minneapolis and Baltimore, where the first of six police officers went on trial Wednesday in the death of black man Freddie Gray.

"The president, in each of those situations, has been cognizant of the limits that are placed on the president of the United States, that his public expressions, either of support or criticism, could be perceived by some as interfering with an independent law enforcement investigation," Earnest said.

Earnest rebuffed suggestions Obama was not commenting on the shooting because of political considerations for Emanuel.

The White House spokesman also bristled when asked to compare Obama's response to the Chicago shooting with his responses to police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.

Earnest said Obama had seen the grisly video on the killing of the teenager, who was shot 16 times. He said the president had not called McDonald's family but did not rule out such a call.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)