By Justin Madden
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago residents called for a complete overhaul of the city's police department on Tuesday at a public hearing being held by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of its probe into the troubled agency.
The federal government launched its investigation into the use of deadly force and possible civil rights abuses by the Chicago Police Department in December following protests over the 2014 police shooting death of a black teenager.
"It's time for change in Chicago," said Robin McPherson, 58, a 31-year resident of the city. "The Department of Justice needs to hold them accountable. It is as simple as that."
Other speakers from the racially diverse crowd of dozens claimed officers were poorly trained in dealing with mentally ill individuals and railed against local prosecutors who they say have mishandled cases against officers accused of misconduct.
If the Justice Department finds civil rights violations, it could lead to a period of federal oversight known as a consent decree. Police forces in cities including Los Angeles, Cleveland and Seattle have been put under consent decrees, which try to end systemic police abuse and make officers more accountable to the public.
Police have come under sharp scrutiny across the country during the past two years over numerous high-profile police killings of unarmed black people, sparking widespread and sometimes destructive protests.
The public hearing in Chicago on Tuesday was the third of four. Frustration and anger met investigators at two hearings in June, with members of the public saying they were tired of years of talk about reforming Chicago's police.
The October 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago was captured on patrol car dashboard camera videos. The footage, which was not publicly released until last fall, sparked angry protests.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired his police chief and replaced him with an African-American man from within the department shortly after the video's release.
Officer Jason Van Dyke, 38, is on unpaid leave and has been out on bail since he was charged with first-degree murder more than a year after he shot McDonald 16 times.
A task force created by Emanuel released a scathing report on the department, saying it is not doing enough to combat racial bias or protect the human and civil rights of residents.
The task force called McDonald's shooting the "tipping point" that brought new focus to a long history of complaints about Chicago police misconduct.
(Reporting by Justin Madden in Chicago; Editing by Fiona Ortiz, Curtis Skinner and Kim Coghill)