Three Ways Mayor Johnson Can Bolster Chicago Police

June 6, 2023

Support from City Hall for Chicago Police will lead to safer streets

Memorial Day weekend started with such promise. Days ahead of the holiday, on May 25th, Mayor Brandon Johnson held a press conference to roll out his plan to tackle Chicago’s epidemic of crime, particularly the spasms of violence which surround long holiday weekends.

Against the backdrop of 63rd Street Beach, Johnson was flanked by community activists, quack clergy, Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates, and officials with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) when he announced a multi-million-dollar giveaway to support violence prevention programs across Chicago. The latest tranche of financial and material support for Chicago comes from private grants to be distributed to community groups to support summer anti-violence programs.

Johnson greeting the media to raise the curtain on his summer anti-crime strategy followed Governor J.B. Pritzker announcing the creation of the Citywide Crisis Prevention & Response Unit (CPRU), which deployed 30 peacekeepers and street outreach partners — yellow vests — to Chicago’s streets. Placing full faith and confidence in the efficacy of “peacekeepers,” Johnson declared:

“The CPRU is an essential tool in keeping our communities safe because these individuals bring invaluable insight and knowledge that allow us to reduce conflict before it escalates, so we are proactive instead of reactive in addressing the causes of violent crime.”


Yet, when Chicago dug itself out of the rubble of another frenetic holiday weekend, the death tally was grim: The Windy City had recorded 60 shot and 12 killed. Though the weekend death toll did not represent a significant statistical change from years past, and the city did not witness another episode of mob activity downtown, Memorial Day weekend numbers did eclipse 2022 and were the worst since 2015. Furthermore, the incivility on Chicago’s streets was particularly embarrassing for the mayor’s office after it was discovered a lauded peacekeeper had been arrested for robbery, aggravated battery, and unlawful vehicular invasion.

Addressing the gloomy numbers, rather than mentioning gang violence or either premeditated crimes or crimes of opportunity were the main drivers of the violence, Johnson diligently churned out the convenient excuse poverty and disinvestment were behind the disorder on the streets. A tired and timeworn explanation for the epidemic of crime Chicago continues to confront, Johnson followed with a pledge as mayor to leverage “every single resource at our disposal to protect every single life in our city.”

While what Johnson said sounds encouraging and accommodating and may be appealing to his political base, it is part and parcel of the same fool’s errand policymaking which has brought Chicago to its current crime impasse. Worse, Johnson’s “blame poverty” game with his vow to use any tool at his disposal to face down Chicago’s unending crime was deeply misleading. If Johnson’s theatrics were designed to secure any achievable objective, it was to redirect the public’s attention from the Chicago Police Department as a solution to the debacle on the streets and to build confidence in alternatives to CPD, such as violence interrupters and peacekeepers.

With the very heart of Chicago teeming with criminals, felony assaults soaring, and the Windy City facing the prospect of summer months filled with unspeakable crime, as mayor, Mr. Johnson is in a unique position to speak to the subject of crime credibly and powerfully and have an impact on residents who are hoping to avoid the casual, everyday violence on Chicago’s streets.

If Mayor Johnson intends to make good on his campaign promises to make and emerge as the historic leader who staved off crime, he would be best served to strengthen the Chicago Police Department by taking the following steps: Relaxing restrictions on police pursuits, ending merit promotions, and backing the legitimacy of police in public.

Though only a recent change to police policy, curbs imposed on CPD vehicular or foot pursuits have allowed criminal suspects to evade police. Criminals are savvy to police policy and procedure and, in addition to the fact lawbreakers are conscious of Kim Foxx’s annoying habit of mollycoddling criminals, they have become more audacious in outlining and carrying out crimes.

As with much of recent police reform measures, the actions taken to amend police policy and procedure have followed incidents in which armed suspects have attempted to resist arrest or flee from police. Most reform efforts have removed critical leverage police once maintained over suspected criminals. In the last several years, restrictions imposed on pursuit policy has disincentivized officers of performing the most basic of police work.

Under today’s restrictive and opaque pursuit policy, officers are disinclined to pursue offenders almost entirely over fear of punishment should a foot or vehicular pursuit go awry. Should some restrictions on pursuit policy be removed and directives be rewritten to establish more clear perimeters under which officers can and should pursue criminal offenders, police officers can fulfill their duties and Chicago’s streets will become safer.

In addition to pursuit policy, Mayor Johnson could strengthen the Chicago Police Department by allowing Interim Superintendent Waller or his permanent successor to perform a sweeping internal house cleaning among command staff and scrapping the "merit" promotion system.

While the appointment of Bill Bradley as First Deputy Superintendent was greeted by the rank and file with some relief, the problem of incompetence remains at the top of the leadership pyramid of CPD. The merit system, originally meant to promote the most diligent officers, has become a system that serves the interests of the politically connected at the Department.

Traditionally, elevation in rank at CPD rested with successfully passing a promotional examination. However, after charges of bias in promotion, the City of Chicago introduced merit promotion to address alleged hurdles to elevation in rank, placing “merit” alongside the standard rank promotion examination.

A sham process, this policy has proved disastrous for the Department. Merit promotion has oiled the wheels for the incompetent to rise in rank based entirely on professional or familial relationships and has left capable officers unable to obtain deserved promotion. This policy has brought about low morale among officers and contributed to officers having little confidence in inept superiors.

Weak, unfit leadership has created a catastrophe at CPD. By eliminating merit promotion and empowering Interim Superintendent Waller or his successor to clean the stables at CPD, the Chicago Police Department would return to and maintain a promotion system in which officers who have demonstrated the gift of leadership and a mastery of policing are rewarded. Promoting accomplished officers would mean lasting stability, able leaders in key positions, and would help gradually return faith in leaders among officers.

Finally, the Chicago Police Department would benefit greatly through consistent public support from the mayor’s office. An obligation of the mayor, Johnson must understand the primary source of police legitimacy is found in the mayor’s willingness to back officers and demand the public respect police and obey lawful police commands.

Over the past decade, CPD has experienced a significant erosion to its authority. While several factors — including instances of police misconduct — have led to a loss of police weight in enforcing the law on the streets, the single greatest determinant of the breakdown of police authority is the pernicious influence of Chicago’s anti-police movement. A reckless troupe of antagonists, Chicago’s anti-police movement has waged a war of incitement against CPD. In its scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war of resistance against CPD, anti-police activists hector police as they attempt to carry out their duties, level distorted claims of police brutality, and hype up police error to hysterical proposition. The anti-police movement’s objective is to intimidate officers and strip police of all moral authority.

The need for Mayor Johnson to offer public support for CPD cannot be understated. This is particularly true in the aftermath of incidents in which an officer is compelled to use lethal force.

In 2022, CPD fatally shot two and wounded 21. Thus far in 2023, CPD has fatally shot three and wounded two. Sadly, there is every reason to believe Chicago Police will be involved in another fatal shooting in the future. A contentious issue — and one on which the anti-police movement thrives — from the moment a police shooting occurs, the scene immediately draws angry crowds. Collecting around officers like scum in slack water, confrontations with police are frequent. Anti-police activists heckle officers and greet police with threats and baseless charges of racism. Scenes of officer involved shootings (OIS) have now become riotous, chaotic settings, which prevent CPD from securing and managing the site of an investigation.

A nauseatingly evil cult, Chicago’s anti-police movement’s dirty game only begins with the scene of the shooting incident. Following the episode, the anti-police posse stubbornly pursues the matter and denounces CPD at every stage of the official inquiry. Though the ensuing investigation into the OIS is built on hard work and superlative methodology, the anti-police movement often alleges a police conspiracy has taken place. Deprived of any proof of police wrongdoing, the activists insidiously repeat the charge in a loud, rude, overbearing manner.

To provide necessary relief to CPD on a matter of such sensitivity, Mayor Johnson is duty bound to inform the general public they have an obligation to obey lawful police commands and to maintain a reasonable distance from CPD as they carry out their official duties. Furthermore, Johnson himself is best served to reserve judgment on any OIS until a sober investigation concludes. Incidents which attract mass attention, for Mayor Johnson to show the slightest solidarity with irresponsible critics of police in the aftermath of an OIS would undermine an official inquiry, widen the abyss between police and Chicago residents, and could lead to increasingly violent confrontations between police and activists. Most important, once an investigative body completes its exploration of the OIS, Mayor Johnson is similarly best served to demand the public accept its conclusions.

Mayor Johnson promised to make Chicago a safer city. Last week, as Johnson struggled to grapple with ongoing bloodbath on Chicago’s streets, he repeated his desire to reduce Chicago’s shocking crime levels. Mayor Johnson is free to experiment with alternatives to traditional policing to attain his stated goal of confronting crime. While many remain skeptical of the Johnson's strategy to combine outreach workers and community groups with policing, to dismiss CPD as unworthy of mayoral time is not only irresponsible amid the acute threat crime poses, but an abrogation of his oath of office.

Leadership over a city in crisis requires taking a risk. For Mayor Johnson, unreservedly and publicly supporting the Chicago Police Department will require real political courage. If Mr. Johnson has the will to defy his base and is willing to take the elementary steps of supporting the legitimacy of CPD in public, allowing a new superintendent latitude to make needed changes in leadership positions and rolling back police pursuit policy, he may anger his progressives supporters, but the reward will be reductions to violence on Chicago's streets.

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