With shootings surging, CPD creates special unit to suppress violence
As murders and shootings continue to surge in 2020, the Chicago Police Department is creating a new unit of officers who will be dispatched to especially violent areas across the city.
While details and plans are still being finalized, the CPD said the new unit will aim “to tackle violent crime and create community partnerships in some of our most challenging areas.”
Through the first six months of 2020, murders in Chicago are up a staggering 39% compared with the first half of 2019. The department recorded 353 murders as of July 5 — 99 more than it saw in the first half of 2019. Overall, shooting incidents are up 42% on the year, with 1,448 recorded in the first six months of 2020 compared with 1,018 in the first half of 2019.
The department said the continued operational reorganization — which has been in the works for months — is a means to empower the CPD’s 22 district commanders.
The new unit will be separate from the Summer Mobile Unit, another citywide unit that responds to violence hot spots but only operates during the summer months.
It wasn’t clear which officers, or how many, will be assigned to the new unit, though the department said the unit’s creation will affect officers already assigned to gang, gun and saturation teams that work out of the CPD’s five citywide areas. A CPD spokesman declined to answer questions about the future of those teams.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Wednesday that roving units have come and gone in the CPD and have been disbanded after becoming overly aggressive and embroiled in scandal.
But she’s confident Supt. David Brown’s version will be different.
“The superintendent is very cognizant of the challenges that existed with these groups before and putting in, particularly, safeguards to make sure there’s proper supervision and accountability,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference to promote Taste of Chicago To-Go.
“It’s much smaller than it’s been before. In times past, it surged to 400 [officers] or more. We’re not going that large. But we need the flexibility of a centralized group.”
Lightfoot dismissed questions about whether flooding one community with officers will push violence into other neighborhoods.
“No, no. Look, we’re always looking at the data. And we’re gonna make strategic deployments, based upon what we’re seeing — both in terms of trends, but also what’s happening on the ground,” she said.
“We need to have the flexibility to add more resources when we see a hot spot flare up with gang conflicts or some other kind of violence driver. That’s the strategic importance of this group. But we need to make sure that we put the safeguards in place so that we don’t have the kind of challenges that we’ve had in years past.”
Brown talked about his proposal to create a “specialized patrol unit” of uniformed officers to roam the city tamping down violent hot spots during his first face-to-face meeting with Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara.
At the time, Brown called it a longterm replacement for the “surge strategy” that infuriated some aldermen by requiring officers from lower crime districts to be reassigned for two hours at a time to higher crime districts on the South and West Sides.
Catanzara said then he was “holding my breath” and “hoping it works,” but he was not optimistic.
On Wednesday, Catanzara was equally pessimistic.
“I don’t necessarily know that another 2,000 or 10,000 policemen would necessarily solve some of these issues,” Catanzara said.
“I guess at least they’re trying,” he added. “But the excuse about flexibility and supervision, that’s all smoke and mirrors. They have flexibility to move the units they’re now disbanding anywhere they want. They obviously could increase supervision for any of the units they’re now disbanding. It all sounds nice to the media. But it’s not reality. It’s just a tagline that they’re adding to make it sound fancy and make it sound like something new when it’s really not.”
Chicago police officers investigate a shooting near 61st and Carpenter streets on the Fourth of July.