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CPD Supt. David Brown says predecessor’s violence-reduction strategy didn’t work — but his does

Brown, speaking to reporters after one year on the job, said his goal is to “change the culture” of the department. He also spoke about how people living criminal lifestyles bring violence upon their families.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown answers reporters’ questions during a news conference at CPD headquarters on the South Side, Thursday afternoon, April 22, 2021.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown answers reporters’ questions during a news conference at CPD headquarters Thursday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said Thursday his predecessor’s crime-fighting strategy didn’t work and defended his own decision to create roving citywide teams of cops, saying they’ve reduced violence — even though the perception is that murders and shootings are out of control.

Brown, who rarely gives news conferences, marked his first year in office by addressing reporters at Chicago Police Department headquarters, where he also tried to put to rest the recent chatter that he was about to be fired by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“Let me start with rumors and gossip. I haven’t dealt with those since junior high school, and I don’t plan on doing it now,” Brown said. “I think this city has a great mayor — I believe Mayor Lightfoot is one of the best mayors in the country — and I support her wholeheartedly, and I am going to work my fingers to the bone for her.”

Brown also discussed the death of 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams, calls for civilian oversight of the police department and its efforts to comply with the 2019 federal consent decree requiring police reforms.

Rumors that Brown might be resigning were driven in part by his lack of visibility after some recent high-profile incidents. While he said the resignation rumors didn’t warrant a response, he said criticism of his not holding more news conferences was fair.

“I am not the kind of leader that chases the camera and says, ‘Look at me,’” Brown said. “I’d much rather be criticized for doing the work, the hard work, and not the PR.”

Also fueling those rumors: rampant Chicago violence over the past year, including a surge in carjackings and a more than 50% increase in murders in 2020 compared with 2019. According to the department’s own crime statistics this year through March 28, killings were up 33% compared to the same period of 2020, and shooting incidents were up 39%.

Interim Supt. Charlie Beck — Brown’s predecessor — had enacted a sweeping department reorganization, focusing on putting cops in districts. Brown said he reorganized again at the end of July 2020, creating large units that can be mobilized across the city to fight crime.

“I just try not to do stuff that doesn’t work. That structure wasn’t working.”

Brown acknowledged the perception his reorganization increased violence.

“The facts are, the old structure wasn’t working in the new landscape of global pandemic and a social justice movement around race. That’s the facts.”

Brown said he’s committed to reforms based on the requirements of the consent decree, saying, “the ultimate goal is changing the culture of the police department.”

He also took another shot at his predecessors: “I walked in the door a year ago and, just to be quite frank with you, the department wasn’t taking the consent decree very seriously. ... We had to dig ourselves out of a hole.”

Still, the department is meeting only slightly more than half of the 72 deadlines being assessed by an independent monitor of the consent decree, Brown acknowledged.

Beck, a former Los Angeles police chief, couldn’t be immediately be reached for comment on Brown’s criticism of his crime-fighting strategy in Chicago. He was acting superintendent from November 2019 until April 2020, when Brown was appointed permanent superintendent.

Brown also spoke about the death of Jaslyn — holding her father responsible, in part, for having her in a car with him when she was shot to death Sunday at a McDonald’s drive-thru on the West Side.

“This is about a young African American male ... deciding to live the life of crime, getting in conflict with others who have decided to live a life of crime and putting your precious babies in the car with you, and this has happened time after time after time — and it’s beyond enough,” Brown said, adding police believe the father was “targeted” by the shooter.

“But,” Brown added, “all of this is colored in race, poverty, social justice, investment on the West and South sides — this despair we feel when we are in impoverished conditions.”

Demands for civilian oversight over the police department have grown in the wake of the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez — so much so that topic sparked an argument during a City Council meeting Wednesday.

Brown said he wouldn’t comment on the ongoing fight for civilian oversight since he promised the mayor when he was hired that he would stay out of politics. He said he doesn’t want to “tip the scale” one way or another.