2020 has been a rocky year for Chicago, and not just because of COVID-19. While violence in certain areas has been a long-standing issue, homicides and shootings became more frequent during the first half of the year. July was especially turbulent, with 100 murders and 585 shooting victims recorded. It was the city’s most violent month in 28 years.
Fortunately, such alarming rates, partly fueled by the wave of unrest that followed the death of George Floyd, coincided with the announcement of a new anti-violence strategy by Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown. It consists of the establishment and deployment of two new teams: the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) and the Community Safety Team (CST).
A set of innovative policing tactics are at the core of this strategy. But most importantly, besides putting an end to the spike in violence in Chicago, these teams also aim to strengthen trust between the officers and the community they work to protect.
A new approach to an old problem
Violence is nothing new in Chicago. Starting in the late 1960s, the city witnessed a sudden surge in crime rates which slowed down in the 2000s, just to increase again in the mid 2010s. Gang warfare is among the top causes of homicides and shootings, but a deep sense of mistrust between the police and some communities within the city also contributes to this issue.
Aware of this, Superintendent Brown has sought to bring citizens and officers closer together through the new policing strategy he presented in July. The established CIRT and CST police units have a specific purpose; the former is to be deployed downtown or wherever mass unrest could take place, while the latter would patrol neighborhoods based on crime data or at the request of a local commander.
(Image source: officer.com)
Brown’s new strategy quickly proved to be effective. Eight weeks after its implementation, murders across Chicago had dropped by 44% versus the previous period, and 200 illegal guns had been recovered. Considering that a total of 544 murders were recorded between January and mid-September, compared to 364 in the previous year during the same period, this news was met with relief by both the police department and the community alike.
The tactics aimed at increasing police involvement with the city’s most vulnerable communities have also received public acclaim. Over the summer, CST officers coached baseball teams on the West Side and, according to the unit’s newly-appointed Deputy Chief, Michael Barz, his team may soon coach basketball as well.
CST officers also organised a backpack giveaway. All the collected funds, which mostly came from their own pockets, were destined to children from domestic violence shelters, who received school supplies and personal hygiene items. As a result of the CST’s positive impact, its team was recently expanded from 300 agents to 500.
Superintendent Brown’s strategy is the latest addition to a list of attempts to curb crime rates in Chicago. Prior to this year, the last anti-violence program to be implemented was the 2012 Violence Reduction Initiative, which was created in response to a sudden increase in crime that involved some high-profile cases. Unfortunately, due to planning issues, it eventually folded.
Better days ahead!
Crime can’t be solved overnight, especially in a city as big as Chicago. But the wave of successes witnessed since these new teams were deployed is reason enough to remain hopeful. Most importantly, this strategy has shown a more positive face of law enforcement to generally distrustful communities, who may now be beginning to see law enforcement officers as protective agents, rather than a threat.