With Chicago’s police leadership in flux, a new report on the nation’s law enforcement ‘crisis’ offers a path forward

Public trust in police has eroded, the number of officers has dwindled and crime has risen. So what comes next for a department pushing to comply with sweeping reforms?

SHARE With Chicago’s police leadership in flux, a new report on the nation’s law enforcement ‘crisis’ offers a path forward
Chicago police Supt. David Brown sits beside First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter, Chief of Operations Brian McDermott and other leaders of the police department during the graduation of Recruit Class 21-3 and 21-4 and promotion ceremony at the Aon Grand Ballroom in Navy Pier, Tuesday morning, March 29, 2022.

Chicago police Supt. David Brown sits beside First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter, Chief of Operations Brian McDermott and other leaders of the police department during the graduation of Recruit Class 21-3 and 21-4 and promotion ceremony at the Aon Grand Ballroom in Navy Pier, March 29, 2022.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With the mayoral election looming and a nationwide search for the city’s next top cop underway, a report released Wednesday charts a path forward for a police department pushing to comply with sweeping court-ordered reforms.

The report issued by 21CP Solutions, a firm started by the former top cop in both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., outlines a “threefold crisis” facing law enforcement agencies nationwide: public trust in police has eroded, the number of officers has dwindled and crime has risen after years of decline.

Former interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck said all the issues raised in the 37-page report apply to the Chicago Police Department, which he briefly led before David Brown. In a meeting with the Sun-Times editorial board alongside other policing experts, Beck said a restructuring is in order while acknowledging that change won’t happen overnight.

“Whichever mayor is selected, it will take two terms, I think, to get where you want to go with CPD,” said Beck, who also served as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department when it was under a consent decree.

Among other things, the report’s “roadmap for progress” recommends strong community involvement during the reform process, embracing that police officials are part of the communities they serve and an oversight system similar to the one Chicago already has in place.

But it also calls for a “dynamic change agent” who works with other leaders to implement reforms, as well as an acute focus on community policing and shifting officers to patrol and away from specialized units.

Those boxes largely went unchecked during Brown’s tenure, which ended unceremoniously last week when he returned to Texas to work for a personal injury law firm.

Brown routinely canceled officers’ days off, moved scores of them to citywide units and implemented a quota system for conducting “positive community interactions,” a program that had to be overhauled after the Illinois attorney general’s office urged city lawyers to pause the effort after finding it was “rife with significant downsides.”

He also lost the confidence of police leaders and notably fired his reform chief, Robert Boik, a move the independent monitoring team overseeing consent decree compliance said “sent a demoralizing message to police officers, supervisors and other CPD personnel.”

Boik, who like Beck agreed with the report’s findings but didn’t contribute, said it should inform the search for superintendent candidates and ultimately the next mayor’s pick. “It really does offer that guide of how a leader such as a mayor ought to be thinking about the position,” he told the editorial board.

Crime and policing quickly emerged as central issues in the mayor’s race. The remaining candidates have conflicting visions for public safety, though both Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas have walked back polarizing comments they respectively made about defunding the police and “handcuffing” officers.

Both candidates have committed to implementing the consent decree. But Vallas has also criticized the city’s new foot chase policy and has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, whose controversial leader has also pushed back on reforms.

Boik said the consent decree hinges on having leaders who embrace the process. And while he acknowledged the foot pursuit policy is “imperfect,” he noted it was the “result of a hard-fought negotiation” and can’t simply be rolled back.

Kathleen O’Toole, one of the report’s authors, said she has seen reform “from every perspective” — as Seattle’s police chief, as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice, as a member of various monitoring teams and as a negotiator with the attorney general’s office.

She insisted the consent decree process shouldn’t boil down to “a box-ticking exercise” and should instead “be a tool to really embed this culture of innovation” and change.

O’Toole said her report is ultimately aimed at police leaders, elected officials and community members “as they engage in thoughtful discussions about the future of policing.”

“Anyone who wants a voice in the process should have a voice in the process and should be listened to very carefully,” said O’Toole, who also served as Boston’s top police official. “The input and feedback from the community is absolutely essential to building legitimacy and trust in the police organization.”

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