Anti-violence efforts must be more than PR spin, window dressing

Chicago doesn’t need exaggerations about the effectiveness of anti-violence efforts. But as the Better Government Association found, City Hall has been doing just that with its cheerleading of the Community Safety Coordination Center.

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Tamara Mahal, Community Safety Center CCO, speaks at a press conference discussing Chicago’s multi-faceted approach to public safety and highlight opportunities for young people this summer at Holstein Park Fieldhouse Gymnasium. Friday, May 27, 2022.

Tamara Mahal, Community Safety Center CCO, speaks at a press conference discussing Chicago’s approach to public safety and opportunities for young people this summer, at Holstein Park Fieldhouse Gymnasium. May 27.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Hot air and self-congratulations often tumble out of the mouths of city officials.

But when it comes to violence and the initiatives designed to stop the relentless bloodshed, Chicago can’t afford hyperbole, PR spin and exaggeration.

Lives are at stake, and the millions earmarked for anti-violence programs can’t be wasted.

As a city, we need to know what methods work and which don’t, as we wrote recently in advocating for thorough evaluations of crime prevention strategies that have begun to receive big infusions of new funding. That money must be spent wisely.

Editorial

Editorial

Taking undue credit for crime reduction and boasting in generalities about success, with little hard evidence, creates a false sense of safety and jeopardizes the public’s trust.

Yet Mayor Lori Lightfoot and others in her administration, including Tamara Mahal, the head of the recently formed Community Safety Coordination Center, have been doing just that, an investigation by the Better Government Association’s Dan Hinkel and David Jackson revealed.

City Hall keeps patting itself on the back, saying the center is working by helping cut the number of “homicides, shootings and violent crime” in 15 communities. But the center has only been operating for a year and the statistics can be misleading, Hinkel and Jackson reported, making the critical point that there have been more shootings in those neighborhoods so far this year than in the same time periods in six of the 10 previous years.

Still, that doesn’t mean that the center’s efforts are not worthwhile. Pushing city agencies to help clean up distressed neighborhoods, add more greenery in blighted areas and respond quickly to 311 requests for city services are positive steps.

Yet records show not everything promised is getting done in a timely fashion. Residents have wondered — so do we — why the onus has been on them and the center to get other city departments to do their jobs, as the BGA reported.

The city, which has $8 million budgeted for marketing and communications for the center, should hold the applause.

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The center’s track record apparently isn’t the only thing that has been overstated, as Hinkel and Jackson found. Mahal has apparently exaggerated her past professional achievements, including her on-the-ground disaster experience and her accomplishments with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution process.

Mahal should be given more time to prove herself. Meanwhile, she and the city ought to cut back on the premature cheerleading. Let experts from an outside, independent entity do it, if and when it’s worth doing.

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