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Interview: Garry McCarthy on the future of the Chicago Police Department

It's been four months almost to the day since former Newark Police Chief Garry McCarthy arrived in Chicago to take over the Chicago Police Department. Since being tapped by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, McCarthy has had to hit the ground running, trying to learn both a city and a police department that's grappling with a rash of summer shootings.

As part of an update to our recent special, Cops and Neighbors, WBEZ's Robert Wildeboer sat down with McCarthy to talk about the lack of trust between police and some communities in the city of Chicago and his vision for rebuilding it.

Here's an excerpt of their extended conversation:

McCarthy: I understand the historical divide between police and communities of color – it’s rooted in the history of this country. The most visible arm of government is a police force, and the institutionalized governmental programs that promoted racist policies that were enforced by police departments in this country are part of the African American history in this country. And we have to recognize it because recognition is the first step towards finding a cure towards what is ailing us.

Over the years we’ve actually done a lot of things wrong and I’m willing to admit that.  A lot of police executives are defensive. We’ve done a lot wrong. In reducing crime there are unintended consequences in the community from policies like “Stop, Question and Frisk” that we have to recognize that maybe it’s not what we’re doing but how we’re doing it that’s affecting public trust.

Wildeboer: Explain what that is and what are some of the issues that raises.

McCarthy: I’m not going to say that "Stop, Question and Frisk" is wrong, I think it’s the way some agencies use it that is wrong. We infuse police officers into high crime neighborhoods based on crime trends. Based upon that, we take police actions whether it is arrests, stops, or motor vehicle violations or administrative notices of violation. All of those result in contacts with minority communities because the highest crime neighborhoods are generally low income, minority neighborhoods. This causes animosity when we’re stopping the wrong people. 

That’s why zero tolerance is not a good idea. I do not believe in zero tolerance. We want to do enforcement against the right people, in the right places, for the right things. And when you stop somebody and they are the wrong person, once you’re done with that encounter we should be explaining to them why we stopped them and perhaps giving them alternatives to standing on that corner at that time.

Wildeboer: And so how is the Chicago Police Department doing at that now?  What are the plans for teaching Chicago police officers how to do that correctly?

McCarthy: Well, I created something in Newark – a community engagement strategy – which really revolved around something called “Sell the Stop”: Sell to the person why it is you stopped them at that place at that time. But that’s a smaller subset of a bigger construct. I mentioned police legitimacy and procedural justice. Police legitimacy is something championed by a woman named Tracy Mears, a law professor at Yale. What it boils down to is when the police are viewed as legitimate, when they’re treating people in a fair fashion, people will in fact comply with the law as a result of the police legitimacy.

The second thing is procedural justice, which has it that fairness, in an encounter with a police officer, is more important than the results of whether or not you get a ticket, for instance. When an officer gives somebody a ticket and they treat somebody professionally, when they treat them fairly, people will have a positive impression of the officer, even though it was a negative encounter. 

These are the concepts that we’re going to infuse into the agency. 

Right now, I got here May 16th…the plan is to get through the summer as best we can. As soon as we get through the summer, that’s when we’re going to start breaking down and doing an introspection on everything we do in this agency – from vision to mission to how we do things to training to police discipline to deployment to uniforms, you name it – all of these things are going to be addressed with a long-term vision of where we want the agency to be in eight years.

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