Is policing heading in the right direction?

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Chicago Police officers stand on a street. Photo credit: TheeErin

A recent article from The Economist highlights many of the most important points in the Chicago murder rate debate, some of which have been made on this blog. One of the biggest ideas presented in that piece is the statistic that only around one-fourth (26 percent) of murders in the city resulted in an arrest in 2016, down 10 percentage points from 2015. So murders increase, police “results” decrease. Similarly, in the shootings category – more frequent (4,300-plus in 2016) and random than homicides – arrests dipped from seven to five percent between those two years. As this article notes, these decreases coincide with an overall reduction in policing statistics from 2015 to 2016 commonly attributed to the CPD’s reluctance to take action in the field following the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video showing the 2014 incident which left the 17-year-old dead. Protests followed the video’s release, and controversy stemmed from the imagery of the seemingly non-dangerous McDonald absorbing 16 gunshots in a matter of seconds.

The CPD has endured a fair amount of criticism since then, from its initial reluctance to release the video (along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who may have suppressed it in order to manage a stronger re-election bid) to its training and policing practices, to its deteriorating community relations. Community oriented policing “involves officers getting to know not just the criminals on their beat,” but other community figures. Ordinary citizens, leaders, and workers aside from the shooters and those shot. For years, Chicago’s community policing has been lacking, highlighted from street-level anecdotes to harsh DoJ reports, and a change to that norm could impact the few Chicago neighborhoods most hurt by gun violence.

Despite calls for reform and promises to do so, in the wake of the McDonald saga and Justice Department investigations, policing is still down and concrete action has not been announced. The Chicago Tribune this week reported that CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Chicago’s top cop since around the time of the McDonald video release, put forth a 27-page document on his department’s “Next Steps for Reform.” Unfortunately, the Tribune found the plan to be lacking in new ideas and “lays out a few concrete moves to come.” If Johnson’s process continues to not break new ground, train its officers well, or move toward effective community policing, it’s doubtful he can be a good spokesman for reform in his department and the city.

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