As the Chicago Police Department continues to implement and tweak its organizational restructuring plans, hundreds of officers have been reassigned to two new teams that aim to foster community relationships and protect the rights of peaceful demonstrators in the downtown area, department leaders said Monday.
About 300 officers will be assigned to the newly formed Community Safety Team, with another 250 or so officers going to the department’s Crisis Intervention Response Team, Supt. David Brown said at a news conference Monday morning.
Officers on the Community Safety Team, led by Cmdr. Michael Barz, will operate mostly on the South and West sides, working to supplement efforts by district commanders while also reaching out to community leaders in an attempt to forge stronger neighborhood ties. More than 150 other officers already assigned to the department’s Summer Mobile Unit will be folded into the Community Safety Team, as well.
“Let me be clear: This is not a roving strike force like what CPD has had in the past,” Brown said. “Working with the district commanders and with the community policing office, they are serving these neighborhoods. Serving.”
The team will work with block clubs, faith-based organizations and community leaders, while also participating in peace marches, food drives, COVID-19 resource distribution and other neighborhood events.
“Until you know the community, you can’t very well protect the community,” Brown said.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) cheered the team’s creation.
“This is a breath of fresh air for residents on the West Side of Chicago, as we have experienced a large number of criminal incidents without, what we believe to be, an adequate response,” Ervin said. “And so, the teams that have been put together today, we believe, will help address those issues in our community.”
The Critical Incident Response Team, under the direction of Deputy Chief Michael Pigott, will focus primarily on large gatherings in the downtown area, which have become common in recent weeks. Last week, the city removed a statue of Christopher Columbus that had drawn the ire of hundreds of protesters.
“The mission of the Critical Incident Team is simple: It is to protect the residents and the visitors that come to the downtown area, or any area in the city, [who] are here to peacefully express their views or enjoy a ballgame or a festival,” Pigott said.
In recent weeks, as murders and nonfatal shootings have surged, Brown has repeatedly said large gatherings in the downtown area take officers away from the South and West sides, where gun violence is most prevalent.
The Critical Incident Response Team will also respond to active criminal incidents in the downtown area. Compared to many other parts of the city, shootings downtown are infrequent, though several have happened in recent weeks.
The department began its extensive organizational restructuring last year under interim Supt. Charlie Beck, and the unveiling of the two teams comes shortly after the department disbanded its gun and saturation teams.
Brown conceded Monday the plans set forth under Beck needed to be tweaked in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, surging violence and civil unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
“The circumstances on the ground changed the day I got here,” Brown said. “What would have been the right reorganization three months ago ended up needing another reorganization just three months later.”