In his first press conference confronting the grim realities of Chicago gun violence, new Police Superintendent David Brown promised some familiar-sounding solutions on Tuesday, the day after the deadliest Memorial Day weekend in five years.
Ten people were killed and at least 39 people wounded in shootings over the three-day weekend, according to police.
Brown called the violence “alarming, and “unacceptable” and lamented that the statewide stay-at-home order, in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, did not seem to impact the gunshots that echoed in historically high-crime neighborhoods.
“The stay-at-home order did little to prevent violence, particularly in the parts of the West and South side[s],” Brown said. “These incidents primarily involved disputes between rival gang factions, as well as clashes involving the sale of illegal drugs.”
About a month into his tenure as superintendent, Brown said the numbers had not shaken his resolve to make Chicago “the safest big city in America.”
“This was a challenging weekend, but we are not [going to] give up on our city,” Brown said. “Our officers are brave, courageous, dedicated men and women who are risking their lives, both with exposure to COVID[-19] and confronting violent offenders.”
The high levels of violence occurred despite efforts by anti-violence groups to flood “hot spots” over the weekend, and despite hundreds of additional officers deployed throughout the city. Brown acknowledged, however, that the department did not increase patrols to the extent that had been done in previous years.
In past years the city had more than 1,000 additional cops on the street for the holiday weekend, which is the unofficial start to summer and is often marred by frequent shootings. But Brown said the department was trying to deploy a fewer number of officers this year more strategically through the use of the city’s new “strategic operations center.”
“This citywide command center looks at 911 calls, as well as deployments and a host of other information. [CPD] was able to adjust our staffing at a moment’s notice using the resources available at the command center,” Brown said. “The [strategic operations center] was also able to utilize resources from Streets and Sanitation, Department of Transportation, the Park District and more. The goal here is to coordinate city resources to prevent crime. Perhaps if residents see street lights being repaired or trees being trimmed, they will be reminded that the city has not forgotten about them.“
Brown said the high level of violence was “not because of a lack of effort.”
He said officers’ work led to the recovery of 216 illegal guns over the weekend, an increase over the Memorial Day holiday weekend last year.
Criminologists in Dallas, where Brown previously served as police chief, have said that city does not have the same problem with street violence, like shootings tied to gangs or drug dealing, that Chicago suffers from. However those same experts described Brown as a quick study who is constantly trying to learn from policing successes in other cities.
Long-term, Brown has pitched more community-based policing and better police-resident relations as a way to bring down Chicago crime.
On Tuesday he described more short-term initiatives aimed at preventing summer shootings, including creating a “summer mobile team” to put more officers on the street on the weekends, and taking officers off of desk duty to place them on patrol in “prominent spots” like downtown, the Lakefront and on the CTA.
A Chicago police spokeswoman declined to give more specifics, saying out of “an abundance of caution” the department does not give details on deployment plans. However, the initiatives resemble past efforts to “increase police presence” and create specialized anti-violence units.