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Rahm's Big Test: Can He Get Black, Latino Chicagoans To Join Police Force?

By Heather Cherone | January 24, 2017 5:51am | Updated on January 27, 2017 11:49am
 'We’re on the road to reform,
'We’re on the road to reform," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "There’s no U-turn here."
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CHICAGO — City officials have one more week to persuade black and Latino Chicagoans to join a police force that federal officials found has routinely used excessive force against minorities and tolerated "racially discriminatory conduct" by officers.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has acknowledged he will have to work “double hard” to meet his pledge to expand the Chicago Police Department by 970 officers — and ensure those new officers reflect the city's diversity.

“We’re gonna have to work double hard to show the Police Department is a different Police Department,” Emanuel said.

A 161-page report released Jan. 13 concluded that racially discriminatory conduct is tolerated by department leaders and that it is so prevalent that many residents interviewed by federal officials "reported treatment so demeaning they felt dehumanized." 


City officials have held dozens of recruitment events in the last several weeks and plastered the city with posters urging Chicagoans to "be the change" by joining the Police Department. The deadline to apply to be a police officer is Jan. 31.

Emanuel has promised to add 970 positions to the Police Department in the next two years: 516 police officers, 200 detectives, 112 sergeants, 50 lieutenants and 92 field training officers. The department also will fill 500 vacant positions.

The new police officers will be charged with rolling back the violence that has shown no sign of slowing down in the first weeks of 2017, with 40 people killed in 22 days.

The mayor has repeatedly pledged to implement the reforms suggested by the U.S. Justice Department and negotiate a legally binding agreement — known as a consent decree — to ensure that reforms are implemented under the authority of a federal judge.

'We’re on the road to reform," Emanuel said. "There’s no U-turn here."

At Emanuel's urging, the city has taken several steps to increase the number of minorities applying to the Police Academy.

The City Council dropped the $30 fee to take the test after officials realized it was a hurdle for some people, officials said.

In addition, the city hired a consultant to try to persuade African-American Chicagoans to join the department using social media and retired officers as influencers.

The Police Department is now 48.5 percent white, 27.5 percent black, 20.7 percent Hispanic and 2.5 percent Asian, based on data provided by the city. Chicago as a whole is 32.2 percent white, 31.5 percent black, 28.9 percent Hispanic and 5.7 percent Asian, according to the 2014 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census.

A measure to allow Chicagoans with minor drug and criminal offenses to apply to become Chicago police officers has been introduced by three aldermen.

The test to get into the academy is scheduled for April at McCormick Place.

Fixing the problems facing the Police Department at all levels will take broad, fundamental reform, the Justice Department concluded.

But the training the prospective police officers will receive from the academy leaves them "unprepared to police lawfully and effectively" once they graduate into the field training program, according to the report Justice Department report.

The department's post-academy field-training program is significantly flawed, the report stated.

While federal officials lauded city officials for recognizing the need for comprehensive reform of the training programs, the "plans are preliminary and amount to verbal commitments with uncertain dates for completion."

Police officers are 10 times more likely to use force against African-American Chicagoans than they are to use force against white Chicagoans, according to the report.

Officers are "too rarely held accountable for misconduct, and discipline is unpredictable and ineffective," according to the report — both for excessive uses of force and the use of racially discriminatory language both in person and via social media.

Of the 980 complaints alleging police officers used racially discriminatory language, in only 13 cases did investigators find there was enough evidence to discipline an officer. Most of those incidents were captured by an audio or video recording, according to the report.