A proposal for reforming the Chicago police

Nothing will get better between Chicago and its police department until the cops become a more candid and involved part of the city and the communities they serve.

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Officer Ja’Lance Hunt poses for photos with a student from Southside Occupational Academy High School, 7342 S. Hoyne, in West Englewood in 2016.

Officer Ja’Lance Hunt poses for photos with a student from Southside Occupational Academy High School, 7342 S. Hoyne, in West Englewood in 2016.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Lots in the paper lately about race, and protests, and police.

Sometimes it seems that’s all there is. Seismic unrest rattling the country. Politicians frantically trying to respond. Corporations too, scrambling — a bus ticket jammed into poor old Aunt Jemima’s hand, booted off her pancake mix box and sent back to Chicago, whence she came.

Cases of police misconduct swirl like leaves in a storm. It can be hard to track them all. Meanwhile, a pandemic is going on somewhere, whoops, make that everywhere, and it’s a sign of just how frenetic things are that sometimes it falls from mind. “Oh yeah! I can die from going to the grocery store. I forgot!

Opinion bug


A jabber of voices. But anyone we don’t hear? Anyone missing?

How about police? Here they are, public howling for their blood. Yet not a peep. Shy? That can’t be it.

Being a journalist, of sorts, I thought I would fill that gap, to find their perspective. To discover what police officers think of all this. Futile, I know. But there is a ceremonial aspect to my job. So I ritualistically phoned CPD news affairs and, feeling ambitious, the Fraternal Order of Police, and explained what I want to do. Get police officers to talk about how these protests affect them, deep down in the little blue-flamed smithies of their souls.

Neither wanted any part of it. Not that they said so. They didn’t say anything — echoes of the old Code of Silence that Eddie Johnson never noticed. Because the police aren’t part of Chicago. Oh, they live here, wink wink. And they work here. But really, police live in a separate Land of Blue, a dreamscape where everybody is a cop, and only cops understand other cops, and they’re all brother cops gazing in cop solidarity over the sharpened pine stockade of their Cop Alamo, blinking their cop eyes at the noisy mob of non-cops they’re supposed to keep safe — “animals,” in police lingo — and the various idiot politicians like the mayor — “Groot,” in racist police lingo (they sell derogatory T-shirts with Lightfoot as the Marvel Comics character, a talking tree) — issuing nonsensical directions based on naiveté, ignorance and malice.

Cops keep silent, not only because their buddies will snap towels at them otherwise. But because deep down, they know what they’d say. And some protective instinct tells them: best not say it. I respect that. I have those moments too. The phrase I use is, “Trying to do my job while still keeping my job.” 

So what to do? Given the bad-apple-spoiled bunch, I’d say the chance of training away CPD groupthink is zero.

The city could hire more Black cops, for starters. The force is about 20% African American; the city is 30%. When I’ve bumped into cops interacting in communities, as opposed to hiding in a concrete bunker in Mount Greenwood, they inevitably are Black cops. 

So let’s end on a positive note.

A few years back, I visited Southside Occupational Academy High School in Englewood, because the students were planting a garden. Lo and behold, who shows up but Officer David Davis, his partner, Ja’Lance Hunt, and other officers from the 7th District.

This is the sort of thing police often do but need to do even more. Become ingrained into the communities they protect as well as proud and outspoken employees of the city. They need to open their yaps and join the conversation.

One officer who showed up to plant the garden said something I want to reprint, to give you an idea of what police can say, when they trust themselves to actually speak.

“It’s about building relationships,” said Hunt. “At the end of the day, it allows us to interact. For the kids, learning about growing healthy foods and the police coming out supporting that. It gives us an opportunity to plant, be interactive and do some positive things with the kids. It’s a win-win. It allows them to see us in a different light.”

The Chicago police need to be seen in a different light. It is something they must do themselves, rather than have done to them. How can an officer be brave enough to charge down a dark alley after a gunman, but too afraid to talk publicly about the job? There’s a disconnect here.

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