By Steve Boulton & Chris Myers
This Op-Ed appeared in the Chicago Tribune on November 28, 2021
Ask Chicagoans what they worry about most, and crime will be at or near the top of the list. A frightening increase is occurring across our city, while reaching devastating proportions in minority neighborhoods. The crime wave has many deep social and economic roots, but it is heightened by two key governmental failures that are capable of remedy.
The first failure is the abdication of duty by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. When a Democratic mayor of Chicago publicly berates a Democratic state’s attorney for not doing her job, we know that our city is not safe. In the 2020 election, the Republican Party offered Pat O’Brien, an experienced and dedicated career prosecutor, as a candidate for state’s attorney. The voters instead chose Foxx and what we view are her lenient policies. We call upon Foxx to change course and fulfill her duty to protect the people.
The second failure is Chicago’s ineffective structure for police management and accountability. Chicago needs the professional policing that the overwhelming majority of Chicago Police Department officers want to provide, not the political policing of today, where public safety and CPD are political footballs. Structural reforms are needed to wrest control of public safety from grandstanding politicians to permit the promotion of professionalism in CPD. In turn, there must be a return to true community policing, full implementation of the recent consent decree and use of data-driven techniques that have been widely successful.
Three immediate structural reforms are urgently needed:
First, the City Council should repeal the ordinance recently passed to create a new police commission. The new structure is both unwieldy and an invitation to the further politicization of policing by creation of a monstrous elected group of 66, not the current three. This being Chicago, demands for commissioner compensation are already being heard, creating a large new expenditure giving benefits only to the new commissioners, not the public.
The combination of this new police commission with the already ineffective Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA, will leave Chicago with a redundant, inefficient and politicized public safety structure that has no chance of providing sound oversight, true accountability and full transparency, as well as the increased public trust in the professionalism of CPD that is desperately needed, but lacking in minority neighborhoods racked by gang violence.
Some will say that the current ordinance is more responsive to community needs while making more people accountable for policing. In reality, adding 66 new would-be politicians ensures plenty of political theater but no advancement toward meeting the current crisis. Quality, not quantity, is the key requirement to replace political policing with professional policing.
Second, the council should adopt a police commission structure parallel to that of Los Angeles, a city that enjoys a far lower amount of violent crime while employing fewer police officers per citizen, despite being larger than Chicago and close to the drug cartel-infested southern border of the country.
Under such a structure, a commission of five unpaid members would be appointed by the mayor to serve staggered terms. The police superintendent would be chosen by the mayor from three candidates put forward by the commission but could be removed only by the commission or the council. A crucial change would be allowing the commission to hire its own professional executive director, who would be provided with the budget and staff to provide effective oversight of CPD while ensuring compliance with the police consent decree.
Another crucial change would be to create a fully staffed police inspector general office that reports directly to the commission, thereby eliminating COPA’s bureaucratic explosion to close to 150 employees and an annual budget of $13 million while achieving only limited results.
Third, Chicago’s corporation counsel must become an elected office, not a position appointed by, beholden to and therefore controlled by the mayor. The refusal of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s corporation counsel to release videos of the tragic shooting of Laquan McDonald demonstrated the need for accountability by public election. An independent corporation counsel could serve as a check on the mayor’s power to withhold information and interfere with investigations.
These reforms are initial yet fundamental steps to limit the role of politics in policing to allow the Chicago Police Department to become the efficient, trusted model of professional policing that our city needs. Combining these structural reforms with a Cook County state’s attorney willing to fulfill her responsibility is Chicago’s best shot to slow the building crisis of crime we now face, while gaining a calmer environment for acting on the socioeconomic issues that underlie it.
Steve Boulton is chairman of the Chicago Republican Party and 32nd Ward Republican committeeman. Chris Myers is 28th Ward Republican committeeman and director of the Chicago GOP Policy Committee.