CPD shifting cops to more violent beats as summer approaches

With shootings and homicides both down after a historically violent 2021, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said the department is now prioritizing 55 police beats that account for half the violence in the city.

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CPD Supt. David Brown speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

With warm weather expected this weekend ahead of the historically violent summer months, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced Tuesday that the department has prepared by pivoting away from a “crisis model” initially adopted to manage civil unrest and focusing instead on patrolling the city’s most dangerous areas.

During a news conference at police headquarters, Brown touted a nearly 10% decrease in homicides and a roughly 15% drop in shootings from 2021, the deadliest year in a quarter-century. To continue that “momentum,” Brown highlighted efforts to focus on 55 police beats that have accounted for half the city’s violence in recent years and to coordinate with other agencies.

Brown had drawn scrutiny for pulling officers out of districts to staff citywide units he established to respond to unrest, address violence and bolster community relations. While he initially shirked the community-based strategy implemented by his predecessor, former interim Supt. Charlie Beck, Brown has recently made an about-face and thinned the ranks of those citywide teams.

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The largest such unit, Brown’s signature Community Safety Team, grew to 872 sworn members in December 2020 but was cut to just 121 officers this month, according to the city’s inspector general’s office.

“We’re unwinding that model because that was due to a crisis and pivoting into what is in my opinion a gold standard model of beat policing, beat integrity, keeping officers on the beat,” he said. “We likely have the largest percentage of our officers on beats right now than we ever had, but we need more.”

Brown noted that officers who aren’t assigned to patrol streets are also being asked to “get from behind the desk, get out of the cars and spend time on the beat.” In addition, he acknowledged that he’s scaling back tactical teams to add more beat cops.

In January, Brown faced backlash when he shifted most tactical officers to patrol assignments with little explanation. The move was eventually attributed to a lack of “activity,” like arrests, although the department later began taking applications for new tactical officers and Community Safety Team members.

Brown insisted the department isn’t “undoing or getting rid of” the citywide and tactical teams but rather pulling back to prioritize the beat-minded strategy.

A police spokeswoman wouldn’t immediately provide a list of the 55 beats that are being targeted. But a similar plan announced in 2020 by Mayor Lori Lightfoot that focuses on tamping down violence in 15 community areas has shown promise this year.

Those areas have seen a 16% drop in homicides and a 29% decrease in shootings, contributing significantly to the positive citywide trend, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis. Still, those numbers are still up 7% and 13% respectively from 2020.

Brown said the added focus in the 55 beats hinges on a block-by-block approach that aims to intervene in areas “that really are driving violence.” The plan relies on coordination with other city agencies and efforts to bolster social services and help build up block clubs, he noted.

“We really are, in my opinion, collaborating as we move into the warmer months to really continue our momentum in reducing crime,” he said.

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