It’s hard to look at the number of shootings and homicides in Chicago over the past 20 months and find any silver lining. By all accounts, our city is in crisis and our efforts to keep our communities and police safe are simply insufficient.
One of us is a city councilor who sits on the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation advisory board and the Chicago Police Chaplains Ministry board. One of us is a former city official who helped develop and implement a community violence response plan in Chicago based on a strategy she led in Los Angeles. Despite our different roles, we both believe Chicagoans are faced with a false choice.
Some Chicagoans want a law and order approach. Some want an intervention approach to violence. In Chicago today, we need both – at full force.
Let’s start with the Chicago Police Department. Our officers are exhausted and demoralized. Vacations have been canceled, extended shifts and overtime are skyrocketing. According to the department, the number of police officers gunned down rose from 12 in 2015 to 79 last year. So far this year, at least 39 officers have been shot, including Officer Ella French, who died of gunshot wounds in August. Her partner is still recovering from gunshot wounds.
The stress on our officers and their families is increasing every day. Tragically, at least 10 Chicago police officers have committed suicide since 2018. Across the country, applications to become police officers are declining and the CPD is struggling to keep up with a wave of retirements. This includes dozens of mid-career police officers whose experience and maturity are sorely needed.
Today our police force has at least 600 understaffed officers and possibly even more understaffed by the end of the year. In addition, CPD has redeployed more than 1,000 agents out of neighborhood neighborhoods into city-wide teams that do not respond to 911 calls. This city-wide deployment has exacerbated resource shortages at CPD in neighborhoods and impacted 911 response services for our residents.
Simply put, we need more police, and we need them now. It’s not at all clear where we’ll find qualified candidates – especially when the mainstream media narrative inaccurately portrays cops as the enemy.
As for the prevention of violence, we have seen commendable efforts on the part of street organizations. Research from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago shows that this approach to responding to violence is starting to bear fruit. In fact, the latest research from Northwestern shows that participants in the Chicago CRED program are half as likely to be shot or arrested as non-participants with similar backgrounds and characteristics. Clearly this saves lives, but, as the report points out, it’s not on a large scale: “For every CRED participant, we found over 20 other people with similar risk profiles who were not receiving no similar services.
Other cities, such as Los Angeles, have been successful when effective, community-based policing coexists with strong community violence response. As we reflect on how to invest the federal relief dollars, let’s avoid the false choice.
More police officers are needed to answer 911 calls in our communities to create a deterrent effect on criminals, to investigate shootings and to deal with high intensity situations. More outreach workers and social workers are needed to reach young people at risk before they commit crimes, prevent retaliatory shootings and steer them into the legal economy.
Chicago has recorded more than 3,000 shootings so far this year, including more than 500 homicides, and we still have four months left in the year. From a purely economic standpoint, gun violence costs Chicago billions of dollars every year. Each shootout averted not only saves lives, it also saves an estimated $ 1 million in police, health care and related costs.
We are in crisis and we cannot continue down this path with a demoralized and understaffed police service and an underfunded network of violence prevention organizations. Our police service cannot go on with 12 hour shifts, canceled days off and hundreds of millions of hours of overtime.
At the same time, the violence prevention community cannot be successful by reaching only one in 20 at-risk young men. With both approaches at full strength, however, we can make Chicago safer for everyone.
Matt O’Shea is a city councilor for the 19th District of Chicago. Susan Lee is a former Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and now Chief Policy and Strategy Officer at CRED Chicago.
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