By Suzannah Gonzales
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday approved court-appointed oversight of the Chicago Police Department to address a 2017 Justice Department finding of widespread excessive force and racial bias by police officers in the nation's third-largest city.
The consent decree, negotiated between the city and the Illinois attorney general's office, marks the first time that Chicago police reforms will be tied directly to a federally enforced agreement, the mayor's office said in a statement.
The Justice Department opened its investigation in December 2015 under President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and issued its report in early 2017 concluding that police officers were routinely violating the civil rights of citizens in Chicago, a city of 2.7 million people.
The report also found a pattern of deadly and excessive force arising from systemic flaws within the police department, including poor training, lack of supervision and a failure to adequately address officer misconduct.
The Justice Department inquiry arose after the court-ordered release of a video showing the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer.
The video was made public more than a year after the shooting, leading to several days of protests and the ouster of the city's police chief. The officer in question, Jason Van Dyke, was later convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.
The consent decree, a court-approved settlement between the parties, will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Robert Dow with assistance from an independent monitor appointed to continually evaluate the police department's progress in living up to the terms of the deal.
The decree calls for, among other things, training in tactics designed to "de-escalate" confrontations with suspects, reporting and review of all incidents in which an officer points a firearm at a person, and analysis of all foot pursuits by police.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel initially balked at federal oversight from the Justice Department, which by 2017 was under the control of Republican President Donald Trump's first attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
Emanuel said such an arrangement was not an option because Sessions opposed consent decrees for the purpose of police reforms. The mayor relented when state Attorney General Lisa Madigan stepped in to essentially fill the role of the federal government, filing suit to begin the process and negotiating a settlement with the city.
"Today is a new beginning for the Chicago Police Department," said her successor, Kwame Raoul, announcing the deal.
The Justice Department has opened civil rights investigations of nearly 70 law enforcement agencies over the past 20 years, reaching consent agreements in such jurisdictions as Los Angeles County, New Orleans, Baltimore, Portland, Oregon, and Ferguson, Missouri.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Grant McCool)
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