Chicago Police Department and Oversight System in Urgent Need of Reform

Posted on February 13th, 2017

A Chicago police officer attends a news conference announcing the department's plan to hire nearly 1,000 new police officers in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

In the last nine months, two reports have been issued detailing far-reaching problems within the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the police oversight system. In April, the Police Accountability Task Force, in which BPI played an active role, released its unsparingly critical report. In January, following a year-long investigation, the United States Department of Justice issued its own report concluding that Chicago police officers systematically violate the Constitution by using unnecessary and unreasonable force, particularly against African-American men. Together, the two reports provide a roadmap for reforming a badly broken system.

The DOJ report describes in detail failures in training and supervision with regard to use of force, and how CPD too often fails to properly investigate and punish police officers who cause harm. The report emphasizes that these failures make both civilians and police officers less safe, and concludes that some of the City’s initial reform efforts have fallen far short.

In almost every city where DOJ has found problems, the police department and DOJ have entered into a consent decree ­­­— a legal agreement to make specific changes. Overseen by federal judges and court-appointed monitors, consent decrees have been an essential tool in reform efforts. The DOJ report warns that reform in Chicago is unlikely to happen without an independent monitor and a court order.

But  while DOJ and the City agreed to engage in good faith negotiations to develop a consent decree, the new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a vigorous and vocal opponent of federal participation in such reform efforts. BPI is now working to identify ways to accelerate reform absent a consent decree, should DOJ and the City fail to reach agreement.

One of BPI’s principal areas of focus involves working with a group of 11 community organizations­­—the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA)­­­—to implement a city-wide community-driven engagement process that leads to the formation of an effective civilian police oversight board, improvement of community-police relations, and adoption of other urgently needed police reforms.

Here are some of the key findings from the DOJ report:

Use of Force

  • Police officers routinely use excessive force, including shooting, using Tasers or beating people who don’t pose a threat when less aggressive and harmful tactics would be appropriate.
  • Police engage in too many foot pursuits that lead to violence, shoot at suspects who are running away, and shoot at moving cars all without justification and in violation of CPD policy.
  • CPD’s use of force policy is inadequate. In some key areas, there is no policy at all, including what to do when pursuing a suspect on foot.
  • Police officers are more likely to use improper force on African-American and Hispanic individuals than on non-Hispanic whites.

Training and Supervision

  • Some training materials on key subjects including use of force are shockingly out-of-date, at times even featuring techniques that courts have deemed illegal.
  • Some instructors are not trained in the subjects they teach.
  • In interviews with probationary officers who recently completed academy training, only one in six could accurately describe CPD’s use of force policy.
  • Once recruits complete their initial training and join the police force, they receive almost no additional training, and the limited training they do receive is often poor in quality.


  • Because policies and procedures make it difficult for individuals to report police misconduct, the majority of such complaints are never fully investigated.
  • Policies and procedures make it easier for police officers to lie about alleged misconduct. Investigators and police officials sometimes coach officers about how to avoid punishment for misconduct.
  • CPD procedures make it easy for officers to receive punishment too light for the misconduct for which they are being disciplined.
  • CPD lacks adequate systems to monitor officers’ use of force, making it hard to identify bad behavior and misconduct.

Officer Wellness and Safety

  • CPD provides inadequate support to officers who need help dealing with stress and trauma.
  • The CPD culture keeps officers from seeking help.


  • Use of force complaints filed by white individuals were six times more likely to result in a finding of wrongdoing than complaints from Hispanic individuals, and three times more likely than complaints from African-American individuals.
  • African-Americans were 10 times more likely to be victims of excessive force.




Recipient of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions

Linkedin Twitter Facebook Youtube