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The Justice Department will open an investigation looking into whether the Chicago Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the civil rights of residents, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Monday.
The investigation will focus on the Chicago Police Department’s use of force, including racial, ethnic and other disparities in use of force, and its systems of accountability, Lynch told reporters during a press conference. In her comments, Lynch said such issues impact the level of trust between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve.
"The Department of Justice intends to do everything we can to foster those bonds and create safer and fairer communities across the country," Lynch said.
The inquiry will be broader than the federal investigation already under way into the videotaped police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald last year. The officer in that case has been charged with murder.
The shooting and the filing of murder charges led to calls from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan for a Justice Department civil rights investigation. Gov. Bruce Rauner and Sen. Dick Durbin have joined in the calls. After initially resisting, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he would "welcome the engagement of the Justice Department."
Since 1994, the Justice Department has had the legal authority to investigate whether a law enforcement organization is engaging in a pattern or practice of civil rights violations. Some investigations end with agreements to improve conduct. Others end up in federal court.
In the last six years, the department has launched more than two dozen investigations of police departments nationwide — more than twice as many as were opened in the preceding period.
The investigation of the Chicago Police Department reflects the types of challenges Lynch has faced as she has directed her agency to help ease racial tensions between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve.
On her first day on the job, Lynch jumped into the fray as the Justice Department dealt with the aftermath of unrest in Baltimore after the city erupted in violence as protestors burned buildings and cars, clashed with law enforcement, broke windows and looted. The events unfolded mere hours after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who sustained a spinal injury while in police custody and later died.
“Building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve is one of my highest priorities as Attorney General," Lynch said during Monday's press conference.