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City Council members accuse top cop of presiding over ‘most dangerous city in the country’

With Chicago Police Supt. David Brown on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings, council members complained about the rise in homicides, shootings and carjackings from last year’s already troubling levels.

Chicago police work the scene where at least six people were shot in the 2000 block of East 71st Street in the South Shore neighborhood, late Sunday, June 27, 2021.
Chicago police at the scene of a mass shooting in South Shore in June. At least six people were wounded in that incident, which occurred in the 2000 block of East 71st Street.
Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown was accused Monday of presiding over “the most dangerous city in the country” as City Council members from across the city demanded that he hire more police officers — not just fill the 1,000 existing vacancies.

At a City Council budget hearing, some members vented their anger about the rise in homicides, shootings and carjackings from last year’s troubling levels that has left their constituents afraid, no matter where they live.

“I cannot remember a time in my lifetime that it has been as violent as it is right now. … Most people I know feel that our city is out of control when it comes to safety,” said Far North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th).

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) cited the alarming statistics: 616 homicides this year, up 4% from 2020 and 57% over the past two years; 2,700 shooting incidents, up 11% from last year and 67% over the last two years; 3,475 shooting victims, 334 of those juveniles.

O’Shea called it the highest number of juvenile shooting victims in the “history of record-keeping” in Chicago.

“We are in a public safety crisis. … Chicago is the most dangerous city in the country,” said O’Shea, whose Far Southwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago Police officers.

Saying he’s “frustrated “ after hearing “so much fluff” at Monday’s hearing, O’Shea said, “Everybody likes to point blame at the judicial branch — namely, the state’s attorney. But the overwhelming majority of elected officials who have office space in this building endorsed the state’s attorney.”

Southwest Side Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) reiterated what he said during a July 2 hearing on summer violence: Chicago needs to hire 2,000 police officers — twice as many as the number of vacancies.

“The constituents of the 13th Ward want to see more police. They’re growing frustrated by paying more taxes and not seeing enough,” Quinn said.

“If we have to hire more police, we should go ahead and do that,” he added. Otherwise, “people are just gonna move out of the city.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown held a news conference Monday, Aug. 10, 2020 at CPD headquarters to address looting that occurred overnight.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown at a new conference on Aug. 10, 2020, where they discuss looting that occurred the night before.
Sun-Times file

Quinn put Brown on the spot, asking whether the 13,176 sworn officers in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed 2022 budget — after she eliminated 614 police vacancies in last year’s budget — was enough.

The superintendent acknowledged 153 officers is “not enough” to combat CTA crime and that the Mass Transit Unit needs “at least 200” more officers.

But, Brown said, he’s satisfied with the overall strength included in the mayor’s $16.7 billion budget.

“If you’re only depending on police, you’re thinking about public safety in the wrong way. It’s got to be a collaborative effort that includes the community, that includes street outreach, that includes social services. What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that the lack of social services escalates conflict.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the Black Caucus, complained about “continued heavy narcotic sales,” and an “outright sense of lawlessness” on the West Side.

He asked Brown whether it was possible to ramp up the police academy, now churning out 60 to 70 candidates every six weeks, to the 100-a-month level.

“You don’t want to hire 100 more a month because you will hire the wrong people,” Brown said.

“It’s not a question mark whether we can go that fast,” he added, because they have before. Unfortunately, “we hired a hundred a month and some people we shouldn’t have hired slipped through the cracks and they embarrassed us later on.”

Brown reiterated Lightfoot’s argument that CPD will have trouble enough filling the 1,000 police vacancies. He told council members he needs their help to attract a diverse group of applicants.

“If we get a hundred people taking our test, only about 10% end up being hired. Think about a thousand vacancies. We need 10,000. We are currently at 5,800 applicants. So we need another 5,000 or so. … We need everyone’s help. It’s not gonna be easy,” Brown told the City Council.

“It’s the most difficult time to be the police. Millennials and Gen Z’s don’t see it as an attractive job. And the more we beat up on our police officers, the more difficult it is to recruit people into this job.”

Thousands of applicants wait in long lines to take the Chicago Police Department exam at McCormick Place in December 2010.
Thousands of applicants wait in long lines to take the Chicago Police Department exam at McCormick Place in December 2010.
Sun-Times file

Brown pointed to the anonymous echo chamber of social media, where people can make sometimes unsubstantiated allegations against officers, fueling anti-police sentiment.

“These young officers particularly — they listen to what’s said on social media. They shouldn’t, but they do. It’s quite a negative sentiment for doing this job. We don’t want them to be apprehensive in doing their job. … They’re not perfect and we hold them accountable. But for us to ask them to risk their lives, they need to hear, ‘We support you in your jobs.’ I can’t say that loud enough.”

Police officers also “need your voice in the court system,” Brown said. He noted that 60% of all carjacking offenders are juveniles and that some of those young people are “prolific repeat offenders.”

“Our officers have arrested over 1,000 people for carjackings and there is little to no consequence in the court system. We’ve cleared more homicides than we have in over a decade. And yet, over 100 people charged with murder are on electronic monitoring,” Brown said.

“That’s discouraging to cops that they would arrest someone for murder and see them on the streets of Chicago. That creates a brazen criminal element not afraid of consequences.”