CHICAGO — As of Christmas, the city of Chicago recorded 682 murders throughout 2022 — a 14% decline in killings from the year prior, according to data from the Chicago Police Department. Violence totals, however, remain above pre-pandemic levels.
With the year drawing to a close, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown spoke via phone with WGN News about his future leading the CPD, the department’s adherence to a federal consent decree, Chicago’s gun violence, CPD officers dying by suicide, as well as the large spike in car thefts felt citywide in 2022.
WGN: Jumping right in. I’d like to start with the consent decree, if we could. Now, the most recent bi-annual report from the independent monitoring team pointed to the department’s staffing protocols as something of a possible inhibitor, as far as overall consent decree compliance (goes). But, obviously, the department’s staffing protocols are often affected by the city’s violence levels.
The monitoring team said that it has, quote, “significant concerns about the lack of consistent staffing and retention levels in areas crucial to the effective implementation of the requirements of the consent decree.”
I’m curious to hear your response to the monitoring team’s concerns as to how staffing is impacting the department’s efforts to comply with the consent decree.
DB: So, I would just respond in this way: Two-and-a-half years ago when I walked in the door, we were at 11% compliance with the consent decree. And 2 ½ years later we are at 78% compliance with the consent decree. So that’s one part of the answer.
The second part of the answer, I think, the concern expressed by the independent monitoring team as it relates to training, as well. Being able to pull off required training. Last year, we completed the first year of 40 hours of required training for every member of this department on time. And this year we’re actually ahead of schedule to complete the 40 hours of required training for every member of this department.
And then finally, I think the more comprehensive answer to the monitor’s concerns is consent decree compliance can and should require our department to civilianize as many positions as we can so that sworn officers can be in neighborhoods patrolling and protecting and engaging the community, building trust.
WGN: Speaking of civilianizing that office, the Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, I remember a few months ago, one of the last times that you and me had spoken, you had said that you were going to, basically, make some staffing decisions to that end, as far as reassigning officers who were in the Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform and putting them back in either Patrol or any other specialized unit. Have you made any headway in that area?
DB: We have, but there’s much more work to do. There are many ways that we can get more sworn officers from desk assignments in to neighborhoods patrolling. So we have, number one, we have made headway, been able to push some resources from desk duty to patrols. And we have made progress recently with Executive Director Tina Skahill on finding other ways to both train, review bodyworn camera and write policy, so that we can continue to look at pushing more officers from those duties to Patrol duties.
WGN: Obviously, it’s a relatively recent change, but from where you’re sitting, how has Tina Skahill’s approach to leading the Office of Constitutional Policing differed from Bob Boik’s approach so far?
DB: It’s still early but there is some clear distinctions. Skahill comes to the job, number one, she’s a lawyer. She has a master’s degree, and she was previously a very experienced and respected sworn member of this department prior to her civilian role. So, (a) very unique set of skills that she brings that, in my opinion, significantly enhances the position. I don’t know that we could’ve found her anywhere else in the country, to be quite honest with you.
And she really understands the importance of civilianization because, you know, when you’re downing beats in our patrol districts so that someone can sit at a desk and write policy, it is the wrong direction. We should be keeping all of our beats staffed and finding civilians to write policy and finding other partners to help us create the capacity to train and Tina just brings a unique set of skills and experience that we likely couldn’t find anywhere else in the country.
Murder Rate in Chicago
WGN: Turning to violence. This year it appears that the city will finish with about 100 fewer murders than in 2021.
DB: One hundred and fourteen, but who’s counting other than the less victims? It is an important accomplishment. Our officers have made —
WGN: To be sure, to be sure. However, though, violence totals are still outpacing what they were in 2019 before the pandemic.
DB: But lower than 2016, which was before the pandemic.
DB: Yes, sir. It’s lower than 2016.
DB: So we are lower than a pre-pandemic year. One homicide is one too many, but again, we are tracking lower.
(Editor’s note: Chicago recorded 762 murders in 2016.)
WGN: OK. And I’m sure the numbers will bear that out. But is this downtick from last year … Violence levels are down in big cities across the country, so this downtick, do you see it as a regression to the mean or as something that can be more sustainable? And, if it can be more sustainable, what do you hope to see in 2023 that will help continue this trajectory?
DB: Actually, [violence is] up in more big cities across the country this year than down. It’s New York. It’s L.A., very minimally. It’s Chicago. And then rounding out the top 10 it’s Dallas and San Diego. Every other big city and medium-sized city is seeing continued upticks in violence. And New Orleans is likely seeing the worst of it.
WGN: So, what’s different here? What happened this year to result in 100 fewer murders? As you said, that’s 100 fewer funerals, 100 fewer grieving mothers. What happened this year?
DB: And I think even more significantly, just to finish your thought, is that 20% decline in shootings is also significant. That’s around 800 fewer people shot. I think, number one, it’s the brave men and women of the Chicago Police Department raised their level of policing. Not just enforcement, but community engagement.
Number two, I think we can point toward our increased collaborative efforts with other city departments and with outside stakeholders, to include street outreach, the business community and nonprofits. I would highlight [Chicago Public Schools] and [the Chicago Department of Public Health] as key stakeholders in our collaborative efforts this year that contributed to the decline.
Carjackings and other crimes
WGN: And while violent crime being down is certainly something that should be credited and appreciated for what it is, property crime this year jumped up pretty significantly, especially as it relates to motor vehicle thefts, which have eclipsed 20,000 on the year, more than a doubling of last year. Broadly speaking, what is driving this large uptick in property-related crime?
DB: If you let me set more context —
WGN: Sure. We have five minutes and [the CPD’s communications director is] gonna hold me to this 15 minutes [time limit].
DB: (laughs) Yeah, I know. Property crime this year is going to be the fourth-lowest in 57 years. Only lower in 2021, which was the lowest number of property crimes since 1965. 2020 was the second-lowest number of property crimes since 1965 and 2019 was the third-lowest number of property crimes since 1965. 2022 will be the fourth-lowest, only [behind] the first, second and third-lowest on record since 1965.
I would just highlight your point, though, of auto thefts, significant increase. And highlight Kia and Hyundai models leading that increase for the first time. Usually it’s Chevrolet, Honda and other models, but for the first time, and really significantly, the Kia and Hyundai steering column flaw that the manufacturers refuse to recall is actually leading that significant increase in auto thefts.
We have to get a handle on that. We’ve begun working with the manufacturers. It’s tough sledding right now, but we hope we can break through and get a recall or get some collaboration with those manufacturers on preventing [auto thefts]. The old-school club across the steering wheel is actually a very significant preventative measure, but we just need about 10,000 of ‘em to give away, you know what I mean? It’s such an easy thing to break that steering column and get a USB charger and turn the column to start the car. It’s a significant flaw that’s really causing this increase.
But burglaries are all-time lows the last three years. Theft category, all-time low the last three years. We’re up against all-time low, but it’s still fourth-lowest on record. We just don’t go back further than 1965, I bet it’s even lower going further back than 57 years.
WGN: 2022, unfortunately, was another year that saw multiple CPD officers die by suicide, including several in just these last couple weeks. Looking forward to next year, what does the department plan to do to minimize officers committing acts of self-harm? What’s the status for assigning one clinician for each of the 22 districts? Is there headway on that?
DB: We’re at 17. As you know, up from three just two-and-a-half years ago, when we had three clinicians. Unfortunately, clinicians are going through a labor shortage like policing right now, so it’s tough sledding getting them hired, but we have made progress this year. So we need to hire five more, we hope we can hire those in the next few months.
We’ve recently hired our Director of Wellness position that was budgeted in this year’s budget, and we’ve added two off-site locations, close to where officers live, both on the North Side and the South Side, where officers were expressing apprehension of coming to a city facility for services. So we created funding for two off-site locations with the help of many stakeholders. And we’ve added quiet rooms to every district. That’s a room where officers can go and decompress after a tough shift, or during their shift. And with collaboration with the Memorial Foundation, upgraded all of our gyms so officers can have a real nice place to work out and [address] some of the stress they face every day in the districts.
Future of CPD
WGN: I’m sure [the CPD’s communications director] is looking at his watch, this is my last one. Superintendent, you have led the department for more than 2 ½ years now. What does your future look like and how much longer do you see yourself leading the Chicago Police Department?
DB: This has been the most challenging time to be the police, to include police leadership. You see the big turnover. I think the Major Cities Chiefs Association has recounted a 70% turnover in police leaders in this country in the last 2 ½ years, which is not sustainable.
Today, I’m like I was when I started. I’m here to serve as long as you’ll have me. That really is my best answer. I don’t have a hidden agenda or anything like that. I’ve fallen in love with the people of Chicago and this city and all the great leaders here, both in the city and outside the city, and I’ll continue to work and grind out the tough, tough challenge of keeping Chicagoans safe.
WGN: Have you and Mayor Lightfoot discussed that? As far as how long your tenure…what that would look like?
DB: No. Just expressing my thoughts, trying to be as open as I can to the question. Stick with that for my answer, ‘As long as you’ll have me.’ I’m here to serve. I’m here to grind it out, keep the people of Chicago safe.