Chicago homicides are up by 51% this year, but down by 33% in Roseland, where $10 million in annual violence prevention programs have taken hold.
What if Chicago duplicated the Roseland model with similar violence prevention programs in fourteen other neighborhoods plagued by gang violence? What if that $150 million-to-$200 million-a-year expansion was bankrolled by shrinking the Chicago Police Department through attrition and eliminating vacancies?
That’s the approach outlined Wednesday by former U.S. Education Secretary and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, who believes it’s time for Chicago to “lead the nation in reimagining public safety.”
Duncan stands to benefit from the strategy he champions. The non-profit he now runs to help at-risk youth — Chicago CRED, which stands for Creating Real Economic Destiny — works with partners in Roseland and fourteen other violent Chicago neighborhoods. CRED currently gets no public funding and has never applied for city help.
But in a virtual address to the City Club of Chicago, Duncan insisted he is motivated not by self-interest, but by a burning desire to stop the never-ending cycle of gang violence that is killing Chicago’s children and destroying the city he loves.
“If we were to have a few less police officers, we could actually invest in more outreach workers, more mental health clinicians, more life coaches, more folks doing job training, more educational teams. Allow those officers to...focus on the real violence,” Duncan said.
“There are literally thousands and thousands of young men ... all over the city looking for a chance to do something different. They’re not getting rich. They’re getting chased by police. They’re getting shot. ... They’re not winning. They’re just stuck in a vicious circle, a violent circle and can’t get out. We have to give them a way to get out. A path out. And if we do that, the vast majority of guys ... will meet us half-way.”
Malik Tiger has already done that. Shot six times and in-and-out of jail, he has begun to turn his life around over the last two years with CRED’s help.
“If we were able to do this in 14 other neighborhoods — if we had 15, 20, 25 [life coaches] in Garfield Park, in Austin, in North Lawndale, in Englewood — how would our city change?” Duncan asked Tiger during his virtual presentation.
Tiger replied: “It would change tremendously. But ... change have to come from within first. You have to get tired. You have to look yourself in the mirror and be disgusted with who you is. I wanted something different.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to restore a sense of safety to every Chicago neighborhood — in part, by treating violence as the public health crisis both she and Duncan believe it is.
Duncan has apparently gotten a sneak-peek at the mayor’s soon-to-be-released violence prevention plan and called it “comprehensive, thoughtful and committed to expanding the community role.” He views it as a “great start for this conversation,” but only a start.
“Every single homicide costs our city about $1.5 million. Non-fatal shootings cost significantly as well....When you talk about loss of revenue. People fleeing the city. Less tourists coming to Chicago. When you talk about the reputational hit that Chicago has taken nationally and internationally, the costs would be much higher....The status quo is simply unacceptable.”
Last week, a top mayoral aide told aldermen the Chicago Police Department has 847 sworn vacancies that could be reduced to chip away at a $1.25 billion shortfall in the city’s 2021 budget.
Duncan is essentially proposing the same thing.
He wouldn’t lay off sworn officers, but he would shrink CPD by eliminating vacancies and not filling the jobs of retiring officers. He’d use up to $200 million-a-year of those savings to create violence prevention programs in all Chicago neighborhoods that need them.
Duncan believes CPD could be reduced to 10,000 sworn officers and still have enough officers to safely patrol the city and improve a 45% homicide clearance rate — but only if violence prevention were a key component of the city’s strategy.
“So you are not saying eliminate and totally defund the police at all, as some people who, in my opinion, have hijacked those terms and literally scared the hell out of a lot of people,” said City Club Chairman Ed Mazur.
Duncan replied, “No. Far from that. I’m being very, very clear here. We desperately need the police. What we’re saying is that, for every dollar we spend on preventing violence, we’re spending $150 on police. We just think that ratio is out of whack.”
Duncan made the case for thinking differently in a presentation to the City Club that noted:
• 80% of gun violence take place in 15 of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods.
• Most victims are young black men between the ages of 16 and 32.
• Less than 5% of police time is spent on violent crime, while 95% is spent on making arrests for non-violent crime.
• Chicago has twice as many police officers as Los Angeles and about the same as New York City. But Chicago has “three-to-five times more gun violence than L.A. and New York.” Chicago could shrink by as many as 3,000 officers and still have more police officers-per-capita than L.A.
• New York (at 83.5%) and L.A. (74%) have homicide clearance rates that put Chicago’s 45% to shame.
With homicides up 51% from a year ago, any effort to reduce police vacancies is almost certain to meet heavy resistance.
Aldermen from across the city are clamoring for more police officers and complaining their local police districts have been stripped of officers to staff new specialized units created by CPD Supt. David Brown.