CHICAGO — After another weekend when children were among dozens of shooting victims in Chicago, police Superintendent David Brown repeatedly asked for more time Monday to deploy his strategy of “community policing on steroids” to bring down the nearly unprecedented level of violence.
Unlike at past Monday news conferences, Brown did not hurl insults at gunmen or complain that not enough people are being locked up. Instead, he once again insisted that the drug trade is the “pipeline to the criminal justice system” and doubled down on his belief that community outreach is a solution.
Brown noted that a specialized unit he announced last week would both respond to flare-ups and perform service work in neighborhoods. He also wants cops on tactical and gun teams doing community service every day, and said he believes in street outreach and violence-interruption efforts.
But he said these programs take time to produce results. “Don’t judge it on the short term. It’s just the beginnings of it,” Brown said. “As it matures and grows to a larger capacity, not just geographic capacity but more people doing it. … I think we’ll likely see great results.”
Brown announced the special unit after an especially violent July Fourth weekend that saw about 90 people shot, at least 17 of them fatally, including 7-year-old Natalia Wallace on the West Side and 14-year-old Vernado Jones Jr. on the South Side.
This past weekend, at least 64 people were shot and 11 of them died. The youngest victim was a 15-year-old boy on the Far South Side, blocks from where his older brother was fatally shot in April. As Sunday drew to a close, a 15-year-old girl was shot while standing on a West Side street, just half an hour after two teenage boys were wounded while sitting in a car at a South Side gas station.
The level of violence was similar to the same weekends in 2016 and 2017, the worst years for shootings in Chicago since the 1990s. More than 1,900 people have been shot in Chicago this year, 550 more than at this point last year, according to data kept by the Tribune.
The superintendent did not say when the unit would begin its work, saying officers were still being recruited to reach the full deployment of more than 200 cops. An internal memo obtained by the Tribune indicates it will be called the Community Safety Team and will operate out of the Englewood police district on the South Side and the training academy on the West Side.
“When it is created, we want it to be a community-oriented, policing-first citywide unit, and that’s different, that’s not your father’s citywide unit,” Brown promised, referring to similar attempts in the past. “That’s not something that’s been done with a citywide unit, from what I understand. … They’ll still be getting guns off the street, arresting violent offenders, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Brown was asked why he thinks the unit will work this time. He chided the reporter, telling her not to be “so jaded” and to “have some optimism.” But he acknowledged that police cannot do the job alone — a message both he and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have driven home over the last several weeks.
“This is a complex, nuanced problem that will take more than just the police,” Brown said. “This is about a lack of opportunity, that’s not a policing issue. This is about social inequality, that’s not police. This is about education opportunities, job opportunities, job training opportunities. That’s not the police, and yet, you only ask me the questions.”
Brown urged a “deeper understanding of the trauma and violent conditions many Chicagoans living in these areas experience.” He talked about a conversation he had with a 25-year-old on the West Side who claimed to have seen 54 of his friends killed.
He discussed systemic issues in the community leading to crime, especially the lack of job opportunities for young people on the South and West sides. Brown said the lack of investment has led people to see the drug market as the only way to make a livelihood.
“They need an opportunity to have a job, participate in the American Dream, see a future,” he said. “And not just this menial job that really doesn’t provide a living wage. They need a real opportunity to learn a trade, to be a part of the capitalist market.”
Also last week, Brown announced a new program requiring summer patrol units to engage in community service projects every week. One alderman dismissed the initiative as “fluff,” but Brown said his plans have been well received by community residents he’s talked with.
“People were on the porch of their homes, out excited about this interaction with the police,” he said. “I think there is a healthy appetite for collaboration with the police in these challenging neighborhoods.”
Shameka Turner, who lives in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side and is the founder of the Resident Association of the Westside, listened to the press briefing and told the Tribune she was not impressed with Brown’s comments.
She said she doesn’t trust the department to pull off a community-oriented approach.
“I’m here in the community, every time I show up to a community meeting, they always bring a Black police officer to say, ‘Oh, community policing,’” Turner said. “As an Austin person, when I call the police or when I’ve been pulled over, guess what, they’ll never look like me on the West Side.
“It’s staged, so that you’re like, ‘Oh community policing, they have Black police officers.’ They have two, and they’re too busy going to meetings,” she said. “It’s the other ones that don’t look like us pulling us over and doing all other kinds of stuff that the people don’t trust.”
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