A look at next steps after damning report on Chicago police

AP News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2017 4:23 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — The release of a damning Department of Justice report, which found civil rights abuses permeate Chicago's 12,000-officer police force, was in many ways just the start of a process that could take a decade or more.

Chicago's is among the largest police departments ever investigated since Congress in 1994 granted the Justice Department powers to do so and to force reforms if deep-seed violations are discovered.

A look at how the process could play out:

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Q: THE MAIN FINDINGS?

A: The 161-page report found officers were too quick to use excessive force, shooting at suspects even when they posed no threat. It also pointed to a "pervasive cover-up culture." The document blamed bad often-deficient training, describing one instance where an aspiring officer slept through an academy class on the proper use of force.

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Q: WHAT HAPPENS FIRST?

A: The most immediate priority is to explain the findings to city and community leaders, as well as to officers. Leader of Chicago's police union held a conference call Friday with Justice Department officials within hours of the report being released.

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Q: AND THEN?

A: Bilateral, closed-door negotiations between city officials and Justice Department counterparts to hammer out a detailed reform plan. Talks with far smaller cities have taken more than six months; negotiations with Chicago are likely to last at least that long.

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Q: WHO WILL OVERSEE THE PROCESS?

A: President Barack Obama's administration launched the probe in 2015 after a video showed a white officer fatally shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times. But once President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated this week, his appointees will be in charge. Career Justice Department staff could offer continuity, though Trump appointees could intervene to alter aspects of the process.

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Q: WHAT ABOUT NEGOTIATING POSITIONS?

A: It's unclear what will change in the negotiating strategy of a Justice Department under Trump, who was strongly backed by police unions — Chicago's included. Obama-era negotiators made greater civilian oversight of police a core position. It's unclear if Trump appointees would push for the same level of civilian oversight, which some unions have criticized as overly intrusive and counterproductive.

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Q: WHAT ABOUT CHICAGO'S MAYOR?

A: The perception that Mayor Rahm Emanuel badly mishandled the McDonald shooting hurt him politically. The Democrat may feel pressure to address all, or nearly all, of the report findings to restore his fortunes, and could end up advocating for a more extensive reform plan than Trump political appointees are inclined to back.

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Q: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE SIDES AGREE TO A REFORM DEAL?

A: Under Obama, they usually took the plan to a federal judge to make it legally binding in the form of a "consent decree." The court also appointed a monitor to ensure compliance.

But Trump's pick to head the Justice Department, Alabama Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, has expressed reservations about consent decrees, saying they can unfairly malign all officers for the actions of some.

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Q: HOW LONG WILL IT ALL TAKE?

A: Some reform plans seek "sustained compliance" within two to four years. Reforms in larger departments with a history of abuses, like Chicago's, can take much longer. An investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department started in 1996 and a consent decree was in place by 2001 While the LAPD had complied with key provisions by 2009, it was only in 2013 that a federal judge ended all court oversight.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at @mtarm.