Mary Dixon: A report out this morning says U.S. police departments face a three-fold crisis: an erosion of community trust, a violent-crime surge, and dwindling police staffing. The report comes from a Chicago-based consulting firm focused on 21st century policing solutions. It urges linking cops more closely to communities. Former interim Chicago police superintendent Charlie Beck says it deserves attention during Chicago’s mayoral race and the search for a superintendent to succeed David Brown. He tells WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell that Chicago should shift from old policing tools, like citywide units that rove between crime hotspots.
Charlie Beck: The districts that have the patrol responsibility in neighborhoods should be seen as the primary strategy because they are there. It's one thing to parachute into a neighborhood and reduce crime by force of will. It's another thing to work with the community to reduce crime as a partnership. You know, it's very important for people to believe that their cops are going to be there tomorrow. And by being there tomorrow, there is a sense of accountability and ownership, both ways, that I think is key to good policing.
Chip Mitchell: What does that mean for specialized units? Does that mean shifting from teams focused on gangs, drugs or guns?
Charlie Beck: It does mean shifting resources to the control of the district commander. In other words, rather than having a centralized gang function or a centralized narcotics function, [district commanders] should all have that resource. It's all about accountability. It's all about being responsible for territory –– it's more important than being responsible for function. And you have to hold, particularly, district commanders accountable. But if you're going to hold people accountable, you have to give them the resources to succeed.
Chip Mitchell: Well, I want to talk specifically about guns. The main method of seizing illegal firearms in recent years in Chicago has been traffic stops –– pulling over cars for minor violations. And then some of those vehicles end up getting searched and a lot of guns are brought in that way. 12,000 guns last year, a lot of them through traffic stops. What do you think of that strategy?
Charlie Beck: Well, you should not count success by how many guns are taken off the street. You should count success by how many shootings occur in a neighborhood. If your goal is only to get guns off the street, one way to get guns off the street is just to increase your odds. If your strategy is strictly how many cars you're going to stop and search, you may get more guns that way, but you may alienate the community to the point that they don't talk to you –– to the point that you don't solve the crimes that do occur with guns and that you don't get people off the street for committing those crimes. And, in doing that, you've not achieved your goal, because your real goal is to reduce shootings, not to get guns.
Chip Mitchell: Mhm. We have a mayoral race here in Chicago. Crime is a hot issue. Politicians tend to want to look tough on crime. As a police leader, what do you make of that campaign rhetoric?
Charlie Beck: Well, I think it's natural that crime is a topic of conversation in Chicago. Crime is too high in Chicago. The number of murders are far too high. But I also think it shouldn't just be the rhetoric of taking handcuffs off the police. It should be the discussion of how to make police more effective. The solution is about these relationships with police and the community they serve in. You know, shootings can be reduced in some ways, but the only permanent way I know is to, first of all, increase the belief of capture after a shooting occurs and, second, especially with gang shootings, be able to clear the crime through community...
Chip Mitchell: "Clear the crime." You're talking about solving the crime based on information from the community.
Charlie Beck: That's exactly what I'm talking about. The most effective gang homicide detectives I ever saw knew everybody in the neighborhood, and they would get calls on cases that weren't even their own. Because A, the community knew that they weren't going to be outed by them. Two, the community had passed contacts with them and knew that the detective's real interest was solving the case and solving it in the right way. And that made all the difference. And so, to end my story. I don't want people thinking that the solution for crime is to, is to have more aggressive [policing], more arrests, but not understanding how you affect the outcomes.
Mary Dixon: That's former Los Angeles Police Chief and Former Chicago Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck. This is WBEZ.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.