Former Los Angeles Police Chief and interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said the Chicago Police Department needs to embrace the consent decree it is currently under in order to become a better police department.
“I was under a consent decree in Los Angeles,” said Beck in an interview with WTTW News. “I completed the consent decree while I was chief. And when people asked me what I would change after it was over, I said ‘nothing’ because it’s a road map to excellence. Yes, it’s a heavy lift, but when you’re completed with it, when you’ve done more than check the boxes but actually made the change that it demands, you have a much, much better police agency.”
Beck said that after 13 years of operating under a consent decree, the changes were accepted by everybody because “it made us a better police department.”
“I can literally see the difference in the LAPD pre-consent decree and post-consent decree,” said Beck. “And believe me, our culture was easily as hardheaded as Chicago’s.”
Beck led the Los Angeles Police Department for almost a decade until his retirement in 2018. He came out of retirement to be Chicago’s interim police superintendent after Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Eddie Johnson in 2019.
Despite just five months on the job, Beck pushed through significant structural reforms, including canceling a system of merit promotion that he characterized as “a good-old boys” network that maintained patronage. He also moved officers from working on citywide units to individual districts.
Those changes were later undone by Superintendent David Brown, who stepped down in March.
Of his successor, Beck said Brown “had a very tough time in a very tough time in policing in America,” particularly as he was coming in from outside to lead a “very insular” department.
“It was a steep climb for him,” said Beck. “And I think by not only my judgment but many others, he fell a little short.”
As Chicago continues its search for a new top cop, Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson has expressed his preference for hiring from within CPD, but Beck said it’s more important to pick the best person.
“I think either an insider or an outsider can be successful, and there are advantages to both,” said Beck, noting an outsider wouldn’t have the “excess baggage” that someone with years of service within the Chicago Police Department would carry.
“They also have the benefit of seeing things from a fresh perspective and, more importantly, seeing how things are done outside of Chicago,” said Beck.
Whoever is appointed, Beck said that person is going to have to make some big changes to improve the morale of the department and its connection to the communities it is supposed to serve.
“The morale of the Chicago Police Department is at rock bottom right now,” Beck said. “They have gone through a vast number of travails and tragedy, and I can certainly see why they feel under-supported and kind of unwanted in Chicago, which is the opposite of the way people in Chicago think. I find people in Chicago to be very steadfast in their support of law enforcement. To be very straightforward. And I loved working with the communities in Chicago because of that.”
One key change Beck would like to see is to put more police resources into communities and move away from a more centralized approach.
“The structure of CPD is antiquated,” said Beck. “It’s a very centrally focused department with many, many citywide units that eat up a lot of resources. Those resources need to be pushed down in the neighborhoods. They need to be under the control of the district commanders. And those district commanders are the people that are most responsible to the neighborhoods and they’re the most responsible to people that live in Chicago.”