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Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck ‘takes off the gloves’ in major department shakeup

Detectives will be moved to police districts, and a powerful new office will oversee civil-rights reforms inside the department in one of the biggest reorganizations in decades.

Interim Supt. Charlie Beck
Interim Supt. Charlie Beck
Sun-Times file photo

One of the biggest police reorganizations in Chicago in decades was launched Thursday by Charlie Beck, the former Los Angeles police chief who’s temporarily running the Chicago Police Department.

The changes include assigning detectives from five regional offices to the city’s 22 police districts and creating a powerful bureaucracy to carry out civil-rights reforms.

Beck says it’s no coincidence that the police departments in Los Angeles and New York also assign their detectives to police stations — and that the LAPD also has a powerful office of police reform.

The new organizational chart for the Chicago Police Department “is very similar to [those] two entities that I think are successful,” Beck said in an interview.

Beck, who was the police chief in L.A. from 2009 to 2018, said he never intended to maintain the status quo in Chicago when he took the interim position late last year.

“She didn’t hire me to be a caretaker,” Beck said of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“I was the chief of the second-biggest city in America for almost nine years. I’m not a caretaker guy. I’m trying to get things done while I’m here. That was my commitment to her.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Nov. 8 introducing former Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck as Chicago’s interim police superintendent.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Nov. 8 introducing former Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck as Chicago’s interim police superintendent.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Beck says he’ll move detectives into police districts to solve assaults, robberies, burglaries and thefts. He hopes that change will be completed by the end of the year when the 22 district stations can be expanded to accommodate them. Those detectives will answer to district commanders.

Most of the city’s homicide detectives will remain in five regional detective headquarters, Beck said. But they’ll answer to deputy patrol chiefs instead of the chief of detectives.

The chief of detectives will supervise a separate team of detectives who’ll roam the city to investigate serial killings and other high-profile murders. The chief of detectives also will supervise narcotics and gang investigators, who previously served under the now-disbanded bureau of organized crime.

New counterterrorism bureau

The department is creating its first counterterrorism bureau, too.

Taping the Chicago Sun-Times podcast, “The Fran Spielman Show,” Beck described the absence of a counter-terrorism unit in Chicago as a “glaring omission” that he’s now corrected.

With responsibility over mass transit, O’Hare and Midway airports, the new unit will be staffed by “multiple hundreds” of officers currently assigned to the detective and organized crime bureaus, as well as the bomb unit, SWAT, canine and intelligence-gathering teams.

“It will really be a full-service counterterrorism bureau reflecting what New York and Los Angeles have, and allow us to be at the table with them and our federal partners in a way that makes Chicago a much safer city,” Beck told the Sun-Times.

“In the past, transit things were on the patrol side. SWAT was on the patrol side. Organized Crime had some intelligence capability and responsibility for counterterrorism. But not with the pieces they need to do that. This puts them all under one shop. All under one boss. I’m gonna make sure that person is well-prepared and well-trained. I’m not revealing the name at this point. But he’s been selected. He will be a great fit.”

Anthony Riccio, the first deputy superintendent, will be in charge of the department’s overall crime-fighting operations.

Barbara West will become the No. 3 official in the department. She’ll be the deputy superintendent of the new Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, which includes the police academy.

West will oversee reforms called for in the consent decree that the city entered into after the Justice Department found the police had engaged in systematic civil rights violations.

“That says that we care about how we police just as much as about how effectively we police,” Beck said.

In November, a federal monitor reported that the police department had missed 37 of 50 deadlines on putting specific reforms into place under the consent decree.

Beck was asked how quickly he believes Chicago can get out from under the consent decree and the costly constraints of a federal monitor.

“It took L.A. 12 years. And it took L.A. to get organized in the right way. Realistically for sure, it’s more in the 6-to-10-year range. That’s a reasonable expectation,” he said.

Moves encouraging, reformers say

Christy Lopez, a former Justice Department lawyer who helped lead the investigation of the Chicago Police Department, said the creation of the new reform office run by West is “fantastic.”

“It’s quite encouraging that the person who is running this is high-ranking,” Lopez said, adding, “Charlie Beck came from LAPD. They had a very robust internal unit like this.”

Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, said he didn’t know the details of the reorganization but the changes made sense to him.

“He’s putting the resources where they are most needed.”

Wexler, whose group last year recommended changes in the way homicide detectives operate in Chicago, said he wasn’t surprised that Beck was making big changes.

“It’s obvious the mayor said, ‘Charlie, take the gloves off.’”

Sean Malinowski, former chief of staff of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Sean Malinowski, former chief of staff of the Los Angeles Police Department.
LAPD

Beck said his advisors on the reorganization included Sean Malinowski, his former chief of staff in L.A. and a former chief of detectives there. Malinowski is now considered a front-runner in the city’s search for a permanent Chicago police superintendent.

“Was Sean involved? Absolutely. Were other people at CPD? Absolutely,” Beck said.

Beck said putting detectives in the city’s 22 police stations will allow them to participate in strategy meetings with patrol officers.

“They’re more likely to get community feedback and cooperation when they are seen as part of that community,” he said. “This model should increase our clearance rates” for solving crimes.

Detectives and narcotics officers, who declined to give their names, said they were taking a wait-and-see approach before they pass judgment on the changes.

One detective was concerned about the possibility of a longer commute to work. A narcotics officer wondered if the department will focus on small-scale “buy busts” at the expense of long-term investigations into drug dealers.

Beck has announced other big changes in recent months, including doing away with a controversial “merit-promotion system” that allowed for promotions to the ranks of detective, sergeant and lieutenant while ignoring exam scores.

And he scrapped a computer-generated list the department used to identify people likely to become victims or perpetrators of shootings.

CPD’s history of shakeups

New Chicago police superintendents often reorganize the department to fit their crime-fighting philosophies, but Beck appears to be making some of the most widespread changes in decades.

In 2001, then-police Supt. Terry Hillard brought back the position of homicide detective. The department didn’t have detectives who specialized in solving murders for more than two decades.

Then in 2008, Supt. Jody Weis eliminated the powerful position of first deputy superintendent and created two co-equal assistant superintendents, one in charge of administration and the other in charge of operations.

Weis’ successor, Garry McCarthy, reversed that change, reinstalling a first deputy superintendent. He also removed layers of management that stood between him and key divisions including patrol, organized crime, detectives, internal affairs, administrative services and organizational development.

Weis and McCarthy changed the department in other major ways, too. In 2008, Weis swept out most of his district commanders. McCarthy replaced many of his district commanders, too, and he emphasized technology-assisted policing.

Asked about the reforms Beck announced Thursday, McCarthy said, “Charlie Beck is a friend of mine. I have enormous respect for him. If that’s what he’s doing, I endorse it.”

Then-Supt. Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 announcing murder charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke in the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Then-Supt. Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 announcing murder charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke in the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.
AP

McCarthy was fired in late 2015 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the scandal involving Laquan McDonald, the knife-wielding 17-year-old shot to death by a Chicago police officer who eventually went to prison for second-degree murder. McDonald’s death brought about the Justice Department investigation that led to the consent decree.

In 2016, McCarthy was replaced by Eddie Johnson, who served as superintendent until he was forced out in December over what Lightfoot called “a series of ethical lapses.”

Still, murders decreased under Johnson’s tenure. Killings had spiked in the year Johnson took office, but the annual murder totals fell steadily. Last year there were 492 murders, compared with 778 in 2016. The police said the murder clearance rate also improved last year.

Crime up, but so are clearance rates

The crime numbers for January are not good. Murders were up more than 45 percent from 22 in January 2019 to 32 this month. Shootings, fatal and nonfatal, were up 30 percent from 96 shootings during January 2019 to 125 shootings so far this year.

Beck blamed the warmer weather this winter for the spike. This month is “more on par with our six-year average,” he said.

“Do we have a lot of work to do? Yeah. Is it a much harder start than I would have liked? Absolutely. We had some very high-profile domestic homicides that added to the body count, very unfortunately.”

“Our clearance rates so far this year is very good. It’s almost 70 percent in some of the neighborhoods. Given the variation in the weather and given the specifics of the crimes committed and our ability to solve those crimes, I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Beck announced his reorganization plan at a meeting of police leaders Thursday. He said they “asked a lot of questions.” He anticipates resistance.

“Nobody likes change,” he said.

But he added, “Cops are about the work. They may gripe about [longer] commutes. But what they really want to do is go to a place where they can make a difference, where they have value and where they are supported. That’s my goal. To give them a place like that to work.”

Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he hasn’t seen the details of Beck’s reorganization and needs to “take a look and see where they intend to go with this.”

The focus on consent-decree compliance isn’t expected to sit well with Graham, who’s up for re-election. He has accused the Chicago Police Department of spending too much time and effort implementing the consent decree, which the union vehemently opposed and had no input in negotiating.