Black aldermen urge Justice Dept. to investigate police hiring

WRITTEN BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES POSTED: 12/07/2015, 01:09PM

Ald. Anthony Beale, at the podium, says the Justice Department should investigate Chicago Police Department hiring practices too. | Sun-Times file photo

The U.S. Justice Department’s sweeping civil rights investigation is a “golden opportunity” to restore public trust in the Chicago Police Department shattered by the Laquan McDonald shooting video, but black aldermen say the feds must go beyond deadly force, excessive force and unconstitutional patterns of policing to include police hiring.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, has called independently administered background checks and psychological exams the “tools used to weed out and disqualify” minorities.

That’s a claim Police Supt. Garry McCarthy called “absolutely absurd” before being fired for becoming what Mayor Rahm Emanuel called a “distraction” in the furor over the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Now that McCarthy is gone and the feds are putting the Chicago Police Department under the microscope, Beale seized the chance to renew his claims about policing hiring.

“We definitely want [Attorney General Loretta Lynch] to look at the hiring practices that systematically exclude minorities. That is a huge first step into having the department reflect the community to where you don’t have situations like this in the future,” Beale said.

“This is a golden opportunity for the Justice Department to come in and clean up what we’ve been talking about for so many years — the injustices that happen within the police department going all the way from hiring to firing. … If we can scrub the department from beginning to the end, [we can] put trust back into a city that has lost its trust in the police department.”

Beale also urged the Justice Department to examine why there was no audio in the Laquan McDonald and Ronald Johnson dashcam shooting videos.

“There may be some officers who don’t want to be recorded, so they systematically install the batteries backwards,” Beale said, citing conversations with several officers.

“Once they do that thorough investigation and see why each one of those officers’ squad car batteries were installed backwards, I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Once she comes in and gets to the bottom of that, you will not have those audio dashcams not working because of those batteries being installed backwards.”

If the Justice Department uncovers an unconstitutional pattern of discriminatory policing, the result would be judicial oversight and the appointment of a federal monitor similar to the one that rode herd over city hiring for nearly a decade after top aides to former Mayor Richard M. Daley were convicted of rigging city hiring.

Ald. Will Burns (4th), one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staunchest supporters, considers that a good thing, even though it’s certain to cost millions Chicago can ill afford.

“$500 million in settlements for excessive force lawsuits [over the last decade] is also very expensive. And the loss of trust in the community … is very costly when you’re trying to find wrongdoers and folks who are shooting up neighborhoods. So, in the cost-benefit analysis, the benefits will far outweigh the cost,” Burns said.

“If you look at cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore and Los Angeles, it’s led to significant reforms. Justice Department recommendations are enforceable through a consent decree, which will mean there is oversight over Chicago to make sure their recommendations are actually implemented, as opposed to sitting on a shelf somewhere. And the city cannot get out of it until it has complied completely with the recommendations.”

Burns, Beale and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) urged Emanuel not to wait for the outcome of the sweeping federal investigation to fire police officers who tailored their reports to the story being told by Officer Jason Van Dyke, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the McDonald case.

They did that by claiming — even though the video shows otherwise — that McDonald was swinging a small knife in his hand in an “aggressive, exaggerated manner” and “attempting to get up” even after being shot.

“That’s despicable for them to have lied on their report of what took place, and the video shows different,” Austin said.

Burns branded lying on a police report a “major infraction” that requires immediate termination.

“The police reports, and all the information that was released, is what makes people believe there was a cover-up. If there hadn’t been a dashcam video, it’s very possible those officers’ interpretations of what happened that night would have become the record on that case,” Burns said.

“We have to move quickly in this city to demonstrate that kind of stuff is not going to be permitted. That’s the only way you restore confidence — by holding people accountable who don’t follow the rules.”

Last week, Emanuel fired McCarthy in the unrelenting furor over the Laquan McDonald video and the city’s decision to wait until a week after the mayoral election to authorize a $5 million settlement to the McDonald family, but keep the incendiary video under wraps until a judge ordered the city to release it.

Late Sunday, Scott Ando, chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority, was also forced out.

Austin strongly disagreed with the mayor’s decision to throw Ando under the bus.

“I thought he was doing a good job. I really do. … He was not allowing shootings to just go unnoticed, and you throw him out the door for that? I don’t think that was fair,” Austin said.

The Justice Department’s sweeping civil rights investigation was not enough to stop rookie Ald. David Moore (17th) from demanding that the City Council hold an investigative hearing into the Laquan McDonald case. Moore said it’s not a matter of playing “gotcha” with Emanuel, but rather about giving the mayor an opportunity to explain why he fought so hard to keep the video under wraps.

But Beale, Burns and Austin said they see no need for a City Council investigation. They called it “grandstanding” by a rookie alderman aimed at shedding “more heat than light.”