CHICAGO — Larry Snelling is no stranger to the Chicago Police Department.
The Englewood native has been on the job for 30 years. And that experience may have – at times – put him at odds with a sitting mayor known more for talking about equity and inclusion than crime and consequences.
Snelling’s mantra: “Remember who you are.”
In a sit-down interview with WGN Investigates, Snelling says he has carried those words with him since his earliest days as a patrol officer, well into the academy as a trainer and now as the head of CPD.
“It’s not just about you. It’s about your partner. It’s about the community. And most of all: It’s about the children of this city because we have to make sure they have a future,” Snelling said.
Newly anointed Snelling takes over a depleted department – down nearly 1,500 officers from just a few years ago – and a city frustrated by frequent flashes of lawlessness. From dangerous drifting by showboats to young people taking over downtown streets, some committing crimes, and officers looking on apparently powerless to stop it does concern Snelling.
“There is a way to stop it and that approach is to be more aggressive and I intend to do that,” he said.
When asked what a more aggressive approach by officers looks like, Snelling replied, “That means doing what it takes.”
“There are onlookers who believe you can talk these people into leaving. They’re not going to leave,” Snelling added. “So it takes a little more aggressive behavior from our police officers to stop it.”
Snelling calls it “aggressive Constitutional policing.” But it comes in a city, a country and a climate – where cop conduct is under the microscope.
“I can’t worry about political climate,” Snelling said. “I understand political climate. But if that political climate forces me into allowing my officers’ response to be rendered ineffective, then I’m not doing my job.”
Chicago police stations are more crowded with migrants awaiting shelter than ever. More than 3,000 now sleep on floors every night. Snelling said Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson hasn’t told him when the city may have more appropriate shelter space available for the new arrivals.
“The big issue is they won’t stop coming,” Snelling said.
As for crime, some key numbers are trending in the right direction. Statistics show murders are down 11% year-over-year but still 18% higher than 2019. Shootings are also down double digits so far this year but still 55% higher than before the pandemic.
“We need to make sure we’re holding violent criminals – especially repeat offenders – accountable because they’ve proven they will go back out and repeat these crimes,” Snelling said.
While a significant surge in carjackings is somewhat subsiding this year, car thefts are up 68% over last year and 231% higher than 2019. While several crimes captured on video may contribute to a sense of fear, Snelling admits it’s more than a perception problem.
“To sit here and say, ‘We don’t have a crime problem,’ I’d be lying through my teeth,” Snelling said. “I won’t do that. I believe in transparency. Let’s tell the truth. We can’t resolve any problems until we tell the truth. The truth is we have a crime problem here. Is it exacerbated through the media and social media? Absolutely.”
The proposed police budget will grow slightly next year and Snelling claims an increase in detectives won’t come at the cost of patrol officers. Johnson campaigned against the city’s Shotspotter detection system – only to have his office claim they “accidentally” renewed it.
Snelling says it’s saved lives by enabling quicker response times. It’s one of several examples of him setting his own agenda and the mayor – at least for now – giving him the room to do it.