What Chicago can learn from Los Angeles about reducing gun violence

Among other things, Chicago must match the investment in violence prevention other cities have made, which is on the order of $30 million per year.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Nov. 8 introducing former Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck as Chicago’s interim police superintendent.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, at a press conference on Nov. 8, introduces former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck as Chicago’s interim police superintendent.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

When it comes to issues like traffic management or housing affordability, Chicago may not have much to learn from the famously sprawling and expensive city of Los Angeles.

When it comes to reducing gun violence, however, America’s second-largest city has much to teach us.

Like Chicago, L.A. had a high-profile videotaped incident that prompted the city to act. And like Chicago, L.A. eventually faced oversight of an outside monitor due to institutionalized racism in the ranks and illegal policing aimed at people of color.

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Unlike Chicago, however, Los Angeles has turned it around and today the city’s rate of gun violence is about a third of Chicago’s, though L.A. has 1.3 million more residents and fewer sworn officers.

Back in the early 1990s, the L.A. Police Department was on its heels with gang violence spiraling out of control. The videotaped beating of Rodney King in 1991 by Los Angeles police officers galvanized the community against the police. Along with other scandals, it led to a federally appointed monitor to oversee police reforms.

Still, it would take a decade after the Rodney King beating before Los Angeles would formally begin its rehabilitation. In 2002, Los Angles brought in the well-regarded New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton as LAPD Chief. He set about rebuilding trust with the public, upgrading police training and supervision, and investing in community policing and violence prevention programs.

Today, many of the key players who worked for and with Chief Bratton are in Chicago. Last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that Bratton’s successor, former L.A.P.D. Chief Charlie Beck, will be interim Chicago Police superintendent. Beck’s oversight of L.A.’s community policing program is credited with sharply reducing gun violence.

Susan Lee, who was the executive director of the Urban Peace Institute in Los Angeles, before coming to Chicago to work for Chicago CRED, is now the deputy mayor for public safety in Chicago. She oversees the newly-created Office of Violence Prevention.

Several other Los Angeles crime experts are now working with the Chicago Crime Lab at the University of Chicago. They include Sean Malinowski, who oversaw data-driven policing for Los Angeles; Maggie Goodrich, who helped L.A.P.D. comply with the consent decree, and Arif Alikhan, who ran the LAPD Office of Constitutional Policing.

And this Wednesday, Nov. 13, Anne Tremblay, who runs an organization in Los Angeles called GRYD (Gang Reduction and Youth Development) will be in Chicago for a symposium on gun violence sponsored by Chicago CRED. We also will hear from Eric Cumberbatch, who plays a similar role for the City of New York, which has experienced an even more stunning drop in gun violence than Los Angeles in recent years.

Among other things, Chicago must match the investment in violence prevention other cities have made, which is on the order of $30 million per year. To date, the City of Chicago has spent almost nothing. Mayor Lightfoot’s 2020 budget includes about $11 million for violence prevention, well short of the $50 million that advocates say is needed but a significant boost over current funding levels.

Thanks to mostly private funders, Chicago has developed several violence prevention programs that are making a real difference for young people. We need to take these programs to scale in our most violent-plagued communities and we have no time to lose.

In 2016, gun violence spiked dramatically, with more than 760 homicides and nearly 4,000 shootings. So far this year, with about 2,400 shootings and 440 murders, gun violence has returned to “normal” levels for the city, but it’s still way too high. To get our rate of gun violence on par with Los Angeles and New York, we need to reduce shootings to about 700 per year and homicides to about 120. It’s an ambitious goal, but there is no alternative.

Chicago’s violence-plagued neighborhoods are emptying out. Our city’s reputation is suffering. Untold numbers of children and families struggle with violence-related trauma. And the annual cost of policing and incarceration of shooters and treatment of gun violence victims runs into the billions of dollars.

In any case, we should all be grateful to Los Angeles for sharing its leadership. Hopefully it won’t take Chicago 20 years to achieve what other cities have done to keep people safe from gun violence.

Arne Duncan is managing partner of Emerson Collective and the founder of Chicago CRED.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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