Data should be driving Police Department dollars, civilian oversight panel says

“We need to spend better and more strategically,” to cut city’s violence, eliminate “untenable” working conditions for officers, commission’s president says.

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Commissioners Anthony Driver (left) and Isaac Troncoso listen as Beth Brown speaks during The Community Commission of Public Safety and Accountability at Malcolm X College, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022.

The Community Commission of Public Safety and Accountability was highly critical of the Chicago Police Department’s proposed budget.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Chicago is spending more on policing with little to show for it because the Chicago Police Department lacks “a long-term, data-driven strategy to reduce violence” and determine where and when to allocate officers, a civilian oversight panel has concluded.

With a month to review the Chicago Police Department’s proposed $1.94 billion budget and just two of its 14 staff positions filled, the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability nevertheless honored its legal mandate to deliver its critique to the City Council before Monday’s final vote on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2023 spending plan.

In a letter to alderpersons accompanying the 18-page report, commission President Anthony Driver Jr. noted police spending in Chicago is increasing “yet the rates of violence remain alarmingly high,” and the homicide rate for Black Chicagoans has “more than doubled” over the last decade.

“Our spending on public safety is not delivering the results our communities need. We need to spend better and more strategically. Workforce allocation problems also create untenable and unacceptable work conditions for Chicago Police officers. They deserve better,” Driver wrote.

The commission’s analysis criticizes police brass for shifting officers “back and forth” between neighborhood police districts and citywide teams that have been the “source of troubling misconduct” and lack the level of supervision necessary to prevent wrongdoing.

“It is unclear whether the Police Department has the infrastructure it needs to make data-driven decisions about when and where to allocate police officers to reduce violence without canceling time off, extending tours of duty on short notice or otherwise creating a work environment that is detrimental to officer wellness,” the analysis states.

“Patrol officers may be scheduled to work in a way that results in there being too few officers in the neighborhoods and on the days and at the times where and when there is the most violence which puts residents in those neighborhoods at much greater risk of being injured or killed.”

The commission said it got its first look at the CPD budget Oct. 3, leaving too little time for thorough analysis. But “preliminary evidence” suggests CPD “is not using its budget effectively or equitably because it does not currently have a long-term, data-driven strategy to reduce violence. … Enormously consequential decisions appear to be made ad hoc, in reaction to daily changes in crime trends not as part of a carefully-developed strategy.”

Days after 14 people, including several children, were wounded in a mass shooting in East Garfield Park, the commission questioned why “communities suffering the most from violence are subject to slow response times and inadequate staffing when crime and violence occur the most.”

To remedy the problem and set the stage for semi-annual progress hearings, the commission urged CPD to publish quarterly reports on:

• The number and percentage of patrol officers in each district working the same beats over time and the ratio of supervisors to officers in each district.

• The number of sworn officers working in centralized units and a written explanation for “significant variations” in those numbers.

• The number of times police officers are subject to canceled days off, extended tours of duty or other scheduling changes to accommodate patrol needs.

The commission also demanded quarterly reports on training, legal judgments and the upcoming community policing initiative.

The department responded to the report with a statement that did not address the most pointed criticisms.

“We have enhanced our efforts to implement practices and policies that support our officers and strengthen trust within the communities we serve. We have made significant progress since the implementation of the consent decree. And we have not slowed down as we built on the foundation that has been set,” the statement said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said it would be “unforgivable” for CPD Supt. David Brown to “operate a police department of this size without a strategy.”

But Taliaferro said he has no idea what Brown’s strategy is because he has chosen not to publicly articulate it.

“Under Superintendent [Garry] McCarthy, I was always aware of what the strategy was and whether those strategies worked. He moved on if something didn’t work. If something worked, he kept it in place,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer who worked under McCarthy.

“I’m not fully aware of the strategies that our department is currently employing. Maybe it’s for security reasons. I don’t know. … If you are a great poker player, is it smart for you to tell the opponent how you play poker?”

As for the complaint about how police officers are allocated, Taliaferro would only say, “We’d like to keep our officers assigned to the districts to which they’re assigned and patrolling the streets rather than having them deployed elsewhere. Taking them out of high-crime districts defeats the purpose of reducing crime.”

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