Vallas: Chicago has a new police chief, what’s his plan to fix the city’s crime problem?
Larry Snelling, formerly the Chicago Police Department’s counterterrorism bureau chief, was selected Aug. 13 to become CPD’s next superintendent. Now, the city needs clarity on his plans to address Chicago’s crime problems.
Larry Snelling was selected Aug. 13 as Chicago’s next police superintendent. Formerly the Chicago Police Department’s counterterrorism bureau chief, Snelling’s solid career and long tenure with CPD endow him with deep knowledge of the department drawn from having served with distinction in several frontline and leadership positions.
Furthermore, his long experience as an instructor at the police academy is invaluable to what will be one of his core responsibilities: Implementing the federal consent decree for which effective police training is foundational.
Chicago has a name – now it needs to know Snelling’s plan to fix the city’s crime problem and a frank assessment on his part of what he needs from Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and the City Council.
Beyond his abundant qualifications, Snelling’s appointment will be well received by rank-and-file officers. How well and how long he maintains that support will depend upon him exercising a diplomatic but firm articulation of the vision and resources needed to shore up a department depleted by years of understaffing, where officers are overworked without the benefit of clear and steady strategies.
While the city council will appropriately take time to question Snelling about his approach to implementing the Consent Decree, the Council would do well to also use the hearings to allow Snelling to explain his vision for how to tackle crime, as well as asking him to articulate what he needs from the Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson to improve public safety throughout the city. This will require the following:
Identifying what resources are needed to bring down crime
First and foremost is a serious discussion of what Snelling believes are the resources and support the police need to be effective. The mayor’s most ardent supporters are advocates for police defunding. They falsely claim 38% of the city’s budget is spent on police as they intentionally only look at the city’s Corporate Fund, which funds city operations. The fact is spending on CPD is 11% of the total city budget, and that does not include all the spending the mayor controls. Almost five times more is spent on the Chicago Public Schools.
Rebuilding police strength is not about providing more funding as much as it’s about allowing CPD to fill its vacancies and deploy officers more effectively. The city has historically failed to fill police vacancies, often to help balance its budget. For those who think not filling vacancies will free up monies for other city services, think again. While carrying 1,000 police officer vacancies last year saved the city at least $150 million, a record $210 million was spent on police overtime as escalating crime and police shortages forced the city to resort expensive overtime.
Outline the legislative support and solutions needed to make the city safer
Second, Snelling needs to offer his thoughts on what the City Council can do to provide the non-monetary support the Department needs to be responsive and proactive. This should include his views on Alderman Anthony Napolitano’s proposed Nuisance Ordinance and the city enacting its own Public Safety Act. Such an act should empower police to make arrests, impound vehicles, and impose heavy fines on individuals and organizations found guilty of violating the public way, damaging property, harassing and threatening city residents.
The city, using its “Home Rule” powers can follow Washington D.C.’s lead and enact its own Public Safety Ordinance. Home Rule empowers the city to take its own action to keep its residents safe. Washington D.C. recently enacted a temporary emergency city ordinance making it easier for judges to keep repeat offenders off the streets. A Chicago city ordinance can provide jail time, require bail, deny pretrial release. It can include fines and terms of probation for individuals who threaten police, intimidate witnesses or victims, engage in hate crimes, commit weapons violations, engage in domestic violence. Violations can be prosecuted by the City Law Department.
Details on overall policing strategy
The City Council needs clear answers on other issues critical to the police having the resources and support needed to contain and reverse the crime pandemic plaguing the city. This includes the following:
A return to the Community Policing strategy along the lines recommended by Interim Police Superintendent Charles Beck in which police deployment prioritizes ensuring local police beat integrity. This is to address the fact that over half high priority 911 calls do not have a police vehicle available to respond when the calls come in.
Restore police to a normal, predictable working schedule. Exhaustive scheduling is demoralizing for police officers and their families, contributing heavily to the officer exodus. This is a major factor in the historic exodus of police officers through retirement or transfers to other police departments.
Promoting into key senior leadership positions, beginning with First Deputy, individuals of Snelling’s own choosing and freezing the friends and family “merit promotions” that undermine the quality of CPD leadership and demoralize the rank and file. This was recommended by Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck.
Expand the pool of officers’ candidates by recruiting veterans off military bases and officers from other police departments. By inviting officers to return with no loss of seniority and inviting retirees to return in a full or part time capacity.
Creating a police reserve of former officers who are now firefighters or in other occupations to provide officers in an emergency.
Create a real witness and victims protection program funded by fees, fines and property confiscations. Retired police officers with investigatory experience can be hired in the Detective Divisions to provide the personnel needed to protect their witnesses and victims.
Canceling the Chicago Transit Authority private security contracts and using the monies to build a credible, well-resourced Chicago Transit Unit staffed by 300 additional dedicated police officers to cover CTA stations, walk platforms and ride trains.
Crime is spiking – now’s the time for clarity and action
While homicides and shootings have dropped slightly in 2022, that positive comes with two sobering caveats. First, it is consistent with a national trend and decidedly not a reflection of anything Chicago is doing. Second, it is a statistical dodge of the fact that overall crime is up this year by 34%, according to the Chicago Police Department’s latest data. Yet, two months into his tenure as mayor, Johnson and his administration have had little to say about public safety.
There were 19,403 more “serious crimes” in 2022 than 2021 and serious crimes through the end of June are up 10,143 over the same six-month period in 2022. Johnson’s primary focus is on “root causes,” with little-to-no emphasis on containing today’s out-of-control violence. It’s a strategy doomed to fail. Root causes are critical to a larger vision for public safety. But the city needs a serious containment strategy now. Snelling’s confirmation hearings should be a discussion of that containment strategy.