City’s top cop says healthy communities, building trust are keys to reducing gun violence

Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck spoke Wednesday at a Chicago Bar Association event downtown.

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Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck

Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck told a gathering at the Chicago Bar Association that officers need a great focus on building community trust. | Sun-Times file photo.

Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Police Department has made big progress in cutting gun violence during the past three years, but improving community trust will be key to making bigger gains, the city’s top cop said Wednesday.

And Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck said there’s “plenty of blame to go around” for the situation the city finds itself.

“We have a large presence of very aggressive street gangs,” said Beck, speaking at a Chicago Bar Association program downtown entitled Curbing Gun Violence: Are we Making Progress? “We have far too many guns. We have a criminal justice system that leans toward liberal. ... We have neighborhoods that are very, very economically challenged. We have a school system that is overtaxed by volume, and we have a police department that has lost the trust of the people that it served in many communities.”

Beck, who spent more than 40 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before coming to Chicago late last year, recalled a program he oversaw in three of LA’s most violent housing projects. Beck said eight officers and a supervisor were assigned to each housing project and were asked to make a five-year commitment.

“I told them, ‘I don’t care if you never arrest anybody. I don’t care if you never write a citation,’” Beck said. “‘How you are being measured is how healthy is the community you are serving? Do kids walk to school? Does day care work? Are there opportunities for social interaction ...?’”

The officers helped organize community sports teams, regularly checked in on the elderly and made sure people felt safe sitting on their porches, among other things, Beck said.

In the most violent of those housing projects, there were no homicides for three years.

“And when we finally had one at the end of three years, it was solved almost immediately because people called,” Beck said.

He said his goal is to instill that same philosophy in Chicago. Beck has said he expects to be interim superintendent at least until March. Twenty-three people have applied for the superintendent’s job.

He also stressed the importance of the Chicago Police Department following the federal consent decree requirements, even after the department is no longer under federal oversight.

“The importance of the consent decree in ... gun violence can’t be overstated, because one of the solutions of gun violence is public cooperation,” Beck said. “Public cooperation is increased when they trust the police department, and policing the consent decree will increase that trust.”

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