Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown says his department needs to do a better job of engaging with the community.
Brown joined “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” to discuss everything from ghost guns to police reform in Chicago.
Brown was at the White House earlier this week when President Joe Biden announced a federal crackdown on so-called ghost guns. Those are firearms made from kits that are privately assembled and have no serial number. Chicago police say they recovered 458 ghost guns in 2021, a 70% increase from 2020.
“It’s a significant problem and it’s an escalating problem,” Brown said. “Also we’re seeing more and more ghost guns at crime scenes being used.”
The Biden administration essentially expanded what qualifies as a firearm under the Gun Control Act to include ghost guns and at home gun kits. Also, Illinois Lawmakers passed a measure making ghost guns illegal.
“I do think the president hit the right note. And I do think that the state legislature here in Illinois is hitting the right notes as it relates to trying to find ways to regulate ghost guns because they are guns, they can harm people and you can order them online with anonymity,” Brown said.
While speaking on police reform, Brown said the Chicago Police Department needs to do a better job building trust and engaging with the community. An independent review released Monday found the department to be moving closer to compliance with its federal consent decree, a court order requiring the department to reform training, policies and practices. It was implemented in 2019 after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that was conducted in the wake of the killing of Laquan McDonald.
“The report that was just issued showed that we are 72% compliant. Now, that's just one, in my opinion, small aspect of what our goal is as it relates to this consent decree,” Brown said. “We want to obviously achieve well beyond the basic requirements of the consent decree. We’re trying to change the culture, transform this department where every Chicagoan can be proud of every officer in this department.”
The report also highlighted community policing and engagement as areas in need of improvement.
One part states, “The CPD’s community engagement efforts continue to frustrate members of Chicago’s communities.” One issue addressed specifically was the department’s goal to have at least 1.5 million police-initiated, “positive community interactions” throughout 2022. The monitoring team expressed concern the department may be focused on quantity over quality.
“Well, quite frankly, the criticism is well taken. I mean, we are starting from a very, very low level of trust in the community. It’s the reason why we’re in a consent decree. So that’s a fair assessment,” said Brown. “Building trust is gonna take a journey and we’re just beginning that journey and we have set goals. Police officers are goal-oriented. If you don’t give officers a goal they seem to flail away at trying to hit whatever task that we're trying to achieve. So fair assessment, but we will never stop engaging the community to build trust. We can never stop and we cannot afford to wait for the perfect in place of the good. So we have a good start getting our office out of their squad cars, out from behind their desks into the community and requiring them to create a positive interaction with the public.”
Along with improving community engagement, Brown says CPD needs better technology, particularly to track officers and their actions.
Brown also weighed in on the controversy around vaccine mandates for officers. Recently, Mayor Lori Lightfoot agreed to exempt 1,439 officers, or 11.5% of the department, from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“I want to make sure we level-set this. If you recall when this first started a few months back, there was the sky’s falling sentiment that 3,000 cops would just walk off the job because of this vaccine mandate. Well, that didn't happen,” said Brown. “We’re likely dealing with a few, 100 officers, who are having whatever apprehension for whatever reason in taking the vaccine mandate, but we do have a significant number of pending exemptions, officers who have applied for either a medical or religious exemption and hadn't received word whether that’s been approved or not.”
Brown says officers who aren’t exempt from vaccination will go into a no pay status, and says COVID has been the number one cause of death for law enforcement over the last two years.
“I believe personally that this mandate will make officers safer,” he said.
Another controversy between the community and CPD is the department’s foot pursuit policy. It came under fire after the March 2021 killing of Adam Toledo. A new permanent policy is expected to be issued sometime this year.
“We wanted to engage and have public comment on the policy. So we went through several rounds of public comment,” Brown said. “That’s been a delay.”