People working on the ground to stem gun violence in Chicago are praising Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pick of Susan Lee to run the mayor’s newly created office of public safety, which on the campaign trail Lightfoot said she’d fund to the tune of $20- to $25 million per year.
Lee most recently worked with the anti-violence organization Chicago CRED, which was formed to connect men closest to gun violence with jobs, but before coming to Chicago, Lee spent years working to combat gang violence in Los Angeles.
In 2007, Lee co-authored a report titled A Call to Action: A Case for a Comprehensive Solution to LA’s Gang Violence Epidemic. The plan outlined in that report is credited with major reductions in Los Angeles gun violence.
Teny Gross, executive director of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, said that report and Lee’s work running the Urban Peace Institute helped make Los Angeles “one of the safest cities in the country.”
“She has a really solid reputation in Los Angeles. She is loved by outreach workers there,” said Gross, whose organization does gang outreach in Chicago. “She has a similar reputation around the country, and the last few years she's been in Chicago, a lot of the outreach community has grown in affection to her and respects her leadership.”
Gross said he consulted with Lee when he set up his anti-violence organization in Chicago.
“She has an incredible ability to assess and learn and make decisions that are very practical for people who need it the most on the ground,” Gross said. “I've been so impressed to see how in her time here in Chicago she got very ingrained with what’s going on here as well as really very clear-eyed about what needs to improve.”
Rev. Marshall Hatch Jr. runs the Maafa Redemption Project at the Greater Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in West Garfield Park. His group partners with Chicago CRED to get West Side men off the street, and in that partnership, Hatch said he worked closely with Lee.
“What impresses us the most, and I can speak for the staff and the organization, is not just the experience, but just her commitment, her heart,” Hatch said. “She's very passionate, she wears her heart on her sleeve.”
Lightfoot took some risk in selecting Lee because she is not from Chicago, and Hatch said that might have been a concern with other candidates, but Lee’s work on the ground has proven her commitment to the city’s poorest communities.
“Of course it would have been a concern if we didn't know her so well,” Hatch said. “I think she's going to have just a well-rounded approach to the problem and I think she's going to be committed to the neighborhoods that need the most help.”
Lightfoot said Lee’s time with Chicago CRED has given her good experience “working on the ground in Chicago.”
As deputy mayor of public safety, Lee will be in charge of the city’s crime fighting strategy. Lightfoot pledged to create the position, and the Office of Public Safety, during her campaign for mayor. She said such an office was essential to making sure Chicago’s efforts to prevent gun violence were cohesive and went beyond policing.
On Tuesday, Lightfoot said Lee would be tasked with coordinating city resources to support public safety, setting up support for crime victims and developing a plan for people returning to Chicago after spending time in prison.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.