Arne Duncan pushes his plan to curb Chicago violence
Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools chief and U.S. education secretary, told reporters he is “absolutely thinking about” challenging Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2023.
The Chicago Police Department is “in crisis,” former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday, pushing his plan to rethink the fundamental role of police to free “burned out” officers to spend more time solving violent crime.
Three weeks ago, Duncan told the Sun-Times he was being urged to run for mayor by business leaders concerned about Chicago’s future and cracked the door open to answering the call.
Duncan told reporters Wednesday he is “absolutely thinking about” challenging Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2023.
But that’s not why he appeared privately before the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to push his four-point plan to stop the bloodbath on Chicago streets.
“All of us as citizens are just extraordinarily concerned about where we are as a city right now and want to get to a better place. … It’s just way too serious … to stay silent. … There’s nothing personal here. This is life and death,” Duncan said.
“We’re coming off of two horrific years. We already have more shootings so far this January than last January,” Duncan said — though the latest CPD data actually shows the number of shooting victims this year is down compared with 2021, as is the number of homicides.
“We can’t afford to have another horrific year in 2022,” Duncan continued. “Why is it important to address these issues now? Because it’s early enough in the year to do some things different and try to get our city to a much safer place right now.”
Chicago closed the book on 2021 with 836 homicides, the highest total in a quarter century. Shootings continue to rise from last year’s troubling levels. Carjackings are through the roof.
Meanwhile, Chicago police officers are retiring in droves. Scores of officers have taken jobs in the suburbs or other states.
Duncan’s four-point plan to reverse that trend is much the same as it’s been for the last two years. It calls for, among other things:
• Taking violence prevention programs like his own — Chicago CRED — “to scale” at a cost of $400 million.
• Reimagining the role of CPD to free up demoralized and overworked police officers to concentrate on solving homicides and shootings.
Duncan noted the Chicago Police Department has 10 officers for every civilian employee — compared with 3 to 1 in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities.
If officers were freed from calls for mental health, medical emergencies, juvenile delinquency, traffic accidents and writing tickets, they would spend more time solving homicides and shootings, Duncan said.
“The biggest driver of gun violence is retaliation because no one is being held accountable. In Roseland, less than one in 10 shootings lead to an arrest. In the absence of real justice, there is street justice,” he said.
Also in the plan:
• Giving district commanders the resources they need to be held accountable by eliminating what he calls “ineffective” citywide units disbanded by Interim Supt. Charlie Beck only to be re-created and expanded under what he called the “misguided policies” of his successor, CPD Supt. David Brown.
• Working with the public and private sectors to provide jobs to high school students and “disconnected” youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working or in school.
Twice in the last 18 months, Duncan has appeared before the City Club of Chicago to propose a $150 million-to-$200 million-a-year expansion of his violence prevention efforts, bankrolled by shrinking the police department through attrition and eliminating vacancies.
He argued then that CPD could be reduced to 10,000 sworn officers and still have enough officers to safely patrol the city.
That opened the door for Lightfoot to label and condemn Duncan’s approach as “de-funding” the police, calling the approach a “stupid idea” that borders on “insanity.”
On Wednesday, Duncan was asked if he still advocates fewer sworn officers at a time when Chicago has roughly 11,900 officers on the street, down from more than 13,000 a year ago.
“There doesn’t need to be less sworn officers. The number is relevant. But what’s much more important to me is how those officers are deployed. How they’re used,” Duncan said.
“I just can’t hammer home hard enough that the biggest crisis facing our city … is shootings and homicides. That’s what we want officers focused on. ... The biggest driver of violence in our city is … retaliation for previous violence because things don’t get solved.”
Instead of playing defense about his own crime-fighting ideas, the former college and pro basketball player shifted to offense.
He went after Lightfoot for pushing her controversial plan to seize ill-gotten assets from gang leaders, though similar plans in other jurisdictions have failed to reduce violent crime.
Duncan said most of the young men he works with “don’t have assets.” They’re “barely, barely, barely making it.” Some are homeless. Other are living in cars.
“It’s important that we spend time on things that can actually make a difference and not spend time on things that don’t make a difference,” he said.
“If you end up taking assets from a grandmother, it just doesn’t make sense.”
As for Lightfoot’s repeated campaign against electronic monitoring, Duncan called that a “tiny, tiny tiny slice of the pie.”
“We actually have to arrest people who commit homicides, who shoot folks. Electronic monitoring doesn’t matter if they’re not arrested. Sentencing doesn’t matter if they’re not arrested. Let’s deal with the lion’s share of the issue,” he said.
During a news conference at police headquarters to announce arrests in the murder of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, Lightfoot initially refused to respond to Duncan’s broadside, arguing it was “not the time to talk about politics. I won’t. Not on this day.”
But she went on to say: “Anybody who thinks that, in this violence, the best thing to do is defund our police department, not provide them with the support and resources they need to be able to, frankly, address exactly the kind of violence that we’re talking about isn’t a serious person.”