A Real Plan for Making Our Neighborhoods Safe

Safety is a basic necessity in our neighborhood that we cannot live without. We must face our challenges with smart and tough leadership that attacks short-term crime challenges, prioritizes our resources and focus toward preventing violent and gun crime, and goes after the long-term roots of crime in our City. It’s time to move beyond just talking about our growing crime issues in our community. We need to take real action.

I have a five-point plan for reducing crime in our neighborhood and the City as a whole:

1. Better Training & Management for Police.  Until recently, Chicago was the only leading U.S. city without any ongoing training requirement for police.  Major U.S. cities have shown real success with focused, yearly officer training in effective policing and long-term community relations.  Training must be the cornerstone of Chicago’s efforts to comply with the new federal consent decree. We need to increase training on non-lethal use of force to ensure Police have alternatives available to de-escalate dangerous situations.  This should not be limited to just the front lines, but should also include training throughout a Police career, including in higher-level management.

Training and management are especially important for our Detective Bureau, where our clearance rates are the key place where we can make a short-term impact on crime in the City.  Right now clearance rates on serious crime are so low that they fail to create adequate deterrence (e.g. the low shooting clearance rate). We can ensure detectives receive continued training throughout their careers to keep current on emerging technology as well as trends in crime, particularly how to leverage social media evidence, as those platforms are increasingly used in connection with violent crime.  Then, by working with the State’s Attorney’s office to create a feedback loop on what cases lead to successful prosecutions, Police leadership can actively manage the detective bureau based on successful case outcomes instead of just number of suspects identified. Reestablishing successful deterrence won’t stop all crime, but low clearance rates and the absence of clear direct consequences allow for impunity that we cannot continue to tolerate.

2. Invest in mental and behavioral healthcare.  We know a significant percent of our crime is committed by people with serious mental and behavioral health challenges.  By investing in this area we can produce a significant positive return in reduced crime, reduced jail occupancy, and cultivating additional taxpayers and contributing members of society.  There’s a huge opportunity to do much of this through Medicaid funding in the Affordable Care Act that could allow the City & County to leverage much of the County’s existing healthcare infrastructure and be nearly cost-neutral in behavioral healthcare expansion.  

3. Leverage safety cameras to catch criminals and discourage crime.  As camera and sensor technology has continued to become much cheaper and exponentially more effective, we need to take advantage of this opportunity to build a next-generation Police force.  We can also take advantage of recent trends of homeowners buying doorbell cameras and set up voluntary cooperation with police networks so homeowners can help Police solve crimes in their neighborhoods.  By placing additional City cameras at major public intersections we can provide real-time decision-making capabilities on deployment, as well as significant evidence for detectives building cases.

For just 8% of the Aldermanic menu budget for one term, we could have cameras set up at all of our Ward’s major intersections and linked directly to our district’s Strategic Decision Support Centers for real-time crime prevention.  All other nearby Lakefront Alderman are investing in these cameras with their Aldermanic budget to protect their constituents – we should too. When combined with our Ward’s already extensive doorbell camera network, we could give our local Police a tremendous advantage at catching criminals and deterring crime.

4. Double and triple-down on community and mentoring programs with proven returns and move away from programs that don’t produce results.  We need to be firm in making sure every dollar goes to programs that actually help kids and not to benefit the adults who run failing programs.  The University of Chicago has led the way on data-driven social programs and we should use the new Office of Violence Prevention to create a unified, data-driven strategy for violence prevention instead of a scattered array of often unproven programs cannibalizing each other for dollars.

5. Make gun violence prevention our number one Police priority.  To make real progress against gun violence, we have to stem the flow of illegal guns.  This starts with cracking down on straw purchasers and bad actor gun shops who arm entire gangs with illegally transferred guns after a buying spree at one of these shops.  It follows by updating our gun laws to make it a felony to transfer an illegal gun to a minor when that gun is used in a crime. Finally, while the federal ban stops the public health study of gun crime at the Federal level, we can work with other willing cities and many states to form a consortium to study gun crime’s public health implications.  We need to be creative to get around the prohibitions at the federal level on making progress on gun violence prevention.

While we’re taking these actions to reduce violent crime, let’s also communicate better about public safety with our constituents with public safety transparency and visualization.  We have great granular data on public safety but very few people are using it. I would create a significant web presence focused on public safety in the Ward. This would include heat maps, graphs, and tracking the arrest record and court outcomes of major crimes.  Residents would have a central place to go to understand public safety in our community in a visual, easy-to-digest format. Then we can expand that area as an online center for neighbors to connect with each other, form block clubs, interact with their local CAPS officers and Strategic Decision Support Center, hear from local criminal justice experts, and better work together to build a stronger, safer community.