City Council members on Friday spent six hours grilling police Supt. David Brown over his plans to tamp down the latest surge in summertime gun violence.
But Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s top cop said he could’ve used that time preparing for the perennially bloody Fourth of July Holiday weekend instead.
“This briefing before you today comes at a cost of critical scheduled time for our leadership team to discuss deployment decisions that we are all forgoing to ensure you have this information once again,” Brown said before outlining some of the patrol strategies that he and the mayor say are regularly provided to aldermen.
Initially, there were questions whether there’d even be a quorum to hold the special meeting that Lightfoot dismissed as political theater orchestrated by her nemesis Ald. Edward Burke (14th). Instead, 47 members showed up — most of them with pointed questions.
When it was all over, Lightfoot called it a “very productive” session that generated “a number of interesting ideas,” but maintained “there were some shenanigans involved with the setting of this meeting.”
“There’s a time and a place for everything. It’s not that the conversation shouldn’t happen. … But the timing of that, we could have done this last week. We could have done it the week before,” she said after the meeting.
The long-winded testimony came a day after 32 more people were shot across the city, including an infant. Brown suggested he should have been back at CPD headquarters “chiming in on where we need to send resources. … We’re here to inform you of our plan, but our time is impacting public safety, costing lives.”
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who was the driving force behind the hastily called meeting, bristled at the suggestion.
“How dare you try to use that on us? You are here because there is a crisis in our neighborhoods that has not been answered to the liking of our residents,” Lopez said. “We know the violence that’s in our streets. We know what happens, and to say that the entire department cannot function because the three of you [Brown and two of his top deputies] are here, is outrageous. It’s insulting.”
Lightfoot later suggested “they could and should have been out, making sure deployments are set.”
Lopez still thanked Brown for showing up for the marathon questioning, which brought the second-year superintendent to many of his usual talking points.
He noted that shootings and homicides are down over the past two months compared to the same period last year — which is true, although a Sun-Times analysis has shown violent crime in 2021 is up overall compared to last year.
He outlined the extended hours and canceled days off for officers to bolster efforts during the “most critical weekend of the year,” without getting into the specifics of July 4th deployments.
He said additional mental health support would be available to a force that’s being stretched to the limits.
And he pointed the finger at Cook County judges and prosecutors for the ongoing spate of shootings.
“This is happening because there’s too much advocacy for violent offenders, and too little consequences for the behavior in the courts. There is an explosion of violent offenders being released back into our communities” on electronic monitoring,” Brown said. “This is madness. Our courts are out of control.”
He repeatedly pointed to several specific cases of shootings tied to people who had been released on other charges, but Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) pointed to a Loyola University study that suggests bail reform measures haven’t resulted in significant upticks in defendants re-offending before trial.
“I’m really concerned about some real fundamental issues of the narrative, especially around the electronic monitoring on the low bond amounts. It is creating a false narrative,” SIgcho-Lopez said. “I just want to be very clear that when we continue to point at these as a fundamental factor, and not following the research, we are going on the wrong track.”
Brown said, “I haven’t seen that study but I disagree with it.”
“I would ask those researchers to move over to the South and West sides of Chicago … [for] just one night,” he said. “If one person is killed by someone on electronic monitoring, you need to rethink electronic monitoring.”
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) read from a letter he said he received from an officer complaining of a lack of mental health supports for overextended officers.
“You need to demonstrate that we care about our officers. We need to offer more services and support to them. Suicidal thoughts and despair are very real,” O’Shea said. Brown said licensed clinicians would be available for officers throughout the long weekend.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) asked Brown what the city can do for the police department.
“We have a significant need to recruit people to apply for the job. What affects that is not only the mood of this body, regarding officers and the work they do, but also to retain officers. We have attrition issues like every other department in the country,” Brown said.
The superintendent pushed back against council members who said he hasn’t met with them regularly to discuss strategies. “Call me anytime,” he said.
And to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who said the new superintendent has been “a little aloof” in keeping out of the public eye early in his tenure, Brown said that’s mostly because he was hired in the middle of a pandemic when large gatherings were restricted.
“I plan to meet you and all of your colleagues as many times as you’d like in your community. I plan to now be anywhere you need me to be,” he said.
Lightfoot, who was mostly silent during the meeting except to cut a few aldermen short in their questions, chided some of those who called for the meeting.
“You’ll find that some of the very signatories … haven’t participated in other opportunities that are readily available to them as members of the City Council,” she said. “I do think we had a productive conversation, and I hope we have productivity moving forward.”