‘Sweeping’ CPD Reorganization Elevates Reform Efforts

Police Chief Charlie Beck
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, left, with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a City Hall news conference on Friday, Nov. 8. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ
Police Chief Charlie Beck
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, left, with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a City Hall news conference on Friday, Nov. 8. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ

‘Sweeping’ CPD Reorganization Elevates Reform Efforts

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Interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck on Thursday followed through on his repeated promises to make reform a central tenet of the police department as he announced a “sweeping” reorganization of the $1.7 billion agency.

A major part of the restructuring is the creation of the Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, one of two new divisions that report directly to the superintendent and oversee the majority of the department.

“In a complicated organization like CPD, your [organizational] chart defines your values,” Beck said in a press conference announcing the changes. “And this shows that our values are aligned with what I’ve been saying, that we believe that [police reform] is the key to an effective police department. And we’re going to elevate the status of that [reform] to the same level that we use for traditional policing.”

Since he took over for fired Superintendent Eddie Johnson in December, Beck has talked up the importance of constitutional policing and rebuilding community trust.

Chicago police are operating under something called a consent decree. It’s a police reform agreement overseen by a federal judge that’s meant to curb abusive policing.

Beck was formerly the police chief in Los Angeles, which was under a consent decree for a dozen years. At an event with the Chicago Bar Association on Wednesday, Beck said compliance with the consent decree was the most important factor in turning around the Los Angeles Police Department and reducing violence.

“Almost everything we did [to comply with the consent decree] made us more effective. Almost everything. But everything we did gained public trust,” Beck said. “An organization that can meet strict requirements, obviously imposed by the court, gains trust. An organization that gains trust is more effective.”

A report from a court appointed monitor released in November found that the Chicago Police Department missed three quarters of its deadlines in the first six months of the consent decree. In an interview with WBEZ, Beck said the department would show more success under his leadership.

The newly created constitutional policing office will be in charge of ensuring consent decree compliance and will be headed by Deputy Superintendent Barbara West. West was previously the chief of organizational development.

Beck said the promotion makes West “the highest ranking African-American female in the history of the Chicago Police Department.”

In a statement, West said the consent decree is a “road map” to making CPD “a model of excellence in public service and constitutional policing.”

Richard Wooten, a retired Chicago police officer and reform advocate, said it was “good to see” the department place such a high priority on consent decree compliance, but also said change “really boils down to what’s actually going on on the street.”

More important, Wooten said, was Beck’s decision to dedicate more resources to the city’s 22 police districts.

The restructuring announced Thursday will put more officers, authority and accountability into police districts. Beck said hundreds of officers currently assigned to specialized gang and drug units will be placed directly into police districts where they will be supervised by district commanders.

The goal is to clear away layers of bureaucracy and ensure that the leaders who are responsible for fighting crime are also empowered to allocate resources where needed.

Beck made the organizational changes even though he is only a temporary steward of the department.

On Thursday, he said all of the changes were done “very much in collaboration” with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who will pick Beck’s permanent replacement.

Wooten said it was clear Lightfoot chose Beck so he could make the changes she thinks are necessary before choosing a new leader.

“You have an interim in place that’s going to actually make the changes that you want made so that when you bring someone new into that position, they are actually sitting inside of a seat that’s already set up for them,” Wooten said. “Sometimes it’s best to bring someone into a situation that is, you know, just black and white and no gray areas.”

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