Chicago’s New Top Cop Lays Out An Ambitious Agenda

David Brown, Former Dallas Police Chief
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown photographed in 2017. In an interview that aired Friday on WBEZ, Brown said he’s looking to community policing and reform to help drive down violent crime. LM Otero / AP
David Brown, Former Dallas Police Chief
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown photographed in 2017. In an interview that aired Friday on WBEZ, Brown said he’s looking to community policing and reform to help drive down violent crime. LM Otero / AP

Chicago’s New Top Cop Lays Out An Ambitious Agenda

He took over during an unprecedented pandemic, but Chicago’s new police superintendent David Brown is not letting COVID-19 diminish his ambitions or expectations for the Chicago Police Department.

In his first interview with WBEZ, Brown spoke about his goal to reduce Chicago shootings and murders to record lows, his plans to improve officer mental health and his commitment to meeting the requirements of the court-ordered police reform plan called a consent decree.

“You’ll find with me, you know, I'm never hardly satisfied,” Brown said in the interview, which aired Friday afternoon. “I'm relentless at achieving high marks on our goals.”

After taking over as superintendent, Brown set the goal of having fewer than 300 murders this year. That would mark a historic drop in violence for Chicago.

Brown said he wanted to achieve the reduction by doing more outreach, particularly to young people in high-crime neighborhoods, reforming the department to earn more public trust and doing more “community policing.”

“Police cannot reduce crime alone ... police are much more effective when they collaborate with the community,” Brown said. “We have to collaborate as a police department in order to be effective at achieving what I am really pushing, [which are] historic lows in crime.”

Brown also pushed back on a WBEZ analysis that found there was no significant reduction in violence during Brown’s time as chief of police in Dallas. As WBEZ reported, Dallas did experience one year with historic low murder numbers during Brown’s time in charge, but murders went back up the next year. The homicide rate was basically the same when Brown left the chief’s office as it was when he entered it.

Brown said looking only at the first and last years of his tenure discounted significant achievements in between.

“No chief had achieved lower murder rates or lower total murders during their tenure than during my effort to implement community policing as a front-facing strategy to reduce crime,” Brown said.

Dallas did experience huge drops in nonviolent crime during Brown’s time as chief. Brown said that was thanks to community policing and neighborhood outreach initiatives that he plans to replicate in Chicago.

Brown described improving officer mental health as being in his “wheelhouse” and pledged to reduce the stigma that prevents cops from seeking help when they need it.

“I don't take that lightly that we often suffer in silence and feel ashamed that we are having struggles with our emotional and mental health,” Brown said. “So I want to really say out loud, it's OK to say ‘I need to talk with someone.’ It's OK to seek out counseling services if you're struggling with what oftentimes is an overwhelming job for our officers.”

Experts in Dallas and Chicago have talked up Brown’s track record on mental health issues, including his devotion to officer well-being and his commitment to improving the way police interact with people suffering mental health crises.

Brown also laid out some clear priorities when it comes to reforming the Chicago Police Department. He said it starts with the department actually fulfilling its obligations laid out in the consent decree, which is a police reform plan overseen by a federal judge.

The independent monitor overseeing CPD’s progress on reform found in her first semi-annual report that Chicago had blown more than two dozen deadlines in the first six months of the consent decree.

The monitor’s second progress report is expected sometime in the next month or so. Brown told WBEZ he is “not sure” how the department will rate in that upcoming report, but he is committed to doing better in the future.

“One area where I have a strong sense where we need to do better is meeting the deadlines,” Brown said. “So we will be pushing to achieve above and beyond what's required. And I'll likely not be satisfied until we get to that point.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.