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Chicago's interim top cop calls Laquan McDonald scandal a 'tipping point' for reform

Jeremy Gorner and Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- In remarks to civic leaders, interim Chicago police Superintendent Charlie Beck called the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald a "tipping point" that must lead the department toward reform and reestablishing trust in minority neighborhoods.

Beck, the former longtime Los Angeles police chief and Mayor Lori Lightfoot's surprise pick last month to temporarily lead the department, drew comparisons between the reform paths that police in LA and Chicago were forced to undertake in the wake of major scandals.

Beck not only singled out the slaying of 17-year-old McDonald but also what he called the "horrific actions" of disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge, whose abuse and torture of dozens of African American suspects in the 1970s and '80s has stained the city's reputation and cost tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

"Each of these journeys is defined by the tipping point event that caused major change," Beck said in reference to the two Chicago scandals and the 1991 LAPD beating of motorist Rodney King. "They both resulted in the same thing. They resulted in a huge loss of trust and confidence by the community in their police departments. They also resulted in oversight. And even more dramatically, there was a human cost. Both agencies, both cities suffered their most violent years following these tipping point events."

Beck said Chicago police must now commit to reform in order to restore that trust by implementing a federal consent decree intended to fundamentally alter the way officers treat residents.

While heading LAPD, Beck oversaw similar reforms for a department that struggled for some 12 years to implement the required changes.

While Chicago is better poised than Los Angeles to implement the widespread reforms, Beck said, the department is still struggling to establish a clear reform mission.


"I see CPD walking the exact same path as LA did," he said. "There is disbelief. There is misunderstanding. There is failure to focus. We're changing all that. ... The pieces are here. We have a committed mayor. A committed CPD team. We have people who have come to join me who have walked the path."

Among the first moves Beck made since landing in Chicago was to fill some 35 positions on the department's reform team that had gone vacant.

The shooting of McDonald in October 2014 was captured on police dashboard camera video, and its court-ordered release more than a year later sparked public outrage and shook Chicago's political foundations, leading to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found the department had engaged in widespread civil rights violations for decades. In a historic trial in 2018, a federal jury convicted white Officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder for shooting the black teen 16 times, making him the first Chicago cop in half a century to be convicted of an on-duty killing.

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