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Chicago mayor promises new approach to CPD, including adding police detectives

Mayor Brandon Johnson also said he will eliminate recent additions to the city’s police landscape, including the ShotSpotter system


When Johnson is sworn in as the city’s 57th mayor Monday, he inherits a Chicago Police Department in a swirl of transition.

Brian Cassella

By Sam Charles
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — On March 26, in the last days before Chicago’s mayoral runoff election, Brandon Johnson appeared as a guest on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s weekend show on MSNBC. As it was throughout the campaign, crime was the central topic.

Hours earlier, two men were killed in separate shootings, each just a few miles from Johnson’s home in the Austin neighborhood.

Prosecutors have filed charges in one of those cases, the killing of 32-year-old Lawrence Chambers in East Garfield Park. The other case, the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Jacob Isaiah Martinez in the Little Village neighborhood, remains unsolved.

“We have to train and promote 200 more detectives so that we are actually solving crime,” Johnson told Sharpton. “The clearance rate in the city of Chicago is absolutely abysmal, especially when it comes to Black and brown communities.”

When Johnson is sworn in as the city’s 57th mayor Monday, he inherits a Chicago Police Department in a swirl of transition. Along with his promise to add detectives, Johnson needs to choose a permanent CPD superintendent, and he has promised to eliminate controversial recent additions to the city’s police landscape, including the ShotSpotter system.

Boosting the detective ranks remains his signature pledge.

Johnson didn’t mention to Sharpton that CPD has already promoted nearly 300 officers to detective in the last three years. But while detectives are clearing more cases since their ranks expanded, the department’s yearly clearance rate — a calculation of homicide cases considered “solved” — continues to hover near 50% amid a large spike in killings that began at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Via the Freedom of Information Act, the Tribune has obtained a list of every homicide case that was “cleared” by CPD detectives between Jan. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2022. Over those 11 years — a period that spans two mayors, two state’s attorneys and three police superintendents — Chicago recorded 6,718 homicides, according to the city’s public data portal. In that same time, CPD detectives cleared 2,956 killings.

CPD’s clearance rate in that time frame, the number of cases solved divided by the number of cases initiated, was 44%.

Trailing other large cities

Police in New York City say their homicide clearance rate was 78% last year, when 433 killings were recorded in the country’s largest city, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, 382 homicides occurred in Los Angeles in 2022, when the LAPD reported a clearance rate of 76%.

To Johnson’s point, a Tribune analysis of CPD’s data found that the clearance rate of homicides in Chicago’s more affluent, mostly white neighborhoods is far higher than the clearance rate in poorer, mostly Black neighborhoods, which suffer the most crime.

The newspaper also found that while more homicide cases have resulted in criminal charges in recent years, CPD detectives are more often attributing killings to suspects who have died. At the same time, prosecutors in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office are more often declining to file charges after reviewing evidence from detectives.

A “cleared” homicide case is categorized in one of three ways:

•Criminal charges are filed against a suspect, and CPD will still consider the case cleared regardless of how it’s adjudicated in court, even if the charges are later dropped or a suspect is acquitted at trial.

•Prosecutors decline to bring charges after evaluating evidence presented by detectives, and CPD will still consider the case cleared.

•The suspect is deceased. A “death of offender” clearance is recorded when detectives believe the person responsible for a homicide is no longer living.

Of the 2,956 homicides that were cleared between 2012 and 2022, about two-thirds — 1,854 — resulted in criminal charges being filed. In a quarter of those clearances, prosecutors declined to bring charges after reviewing evidence from detectives. The rest of the clearances — 372 killings — were blamed on suspects who were dead, police data show.

Not all CPD detectives are tasked with investigating homicides. Some are responsible for nonfatal shootings, robberies and burglaries. Other detectives investigate arsons, and the CPD’s cold case detectives focus solely on years-old killings.

CPD declined to say how it would distribute the 200 detectives promised by Johnson, and it also did not provide a response when asked about the difference in clearance rates between the city’s wealthier, white neighborhoods and poorer, Black neighborhoods. Leaders of the department’s detective bureau were not made available for interviews.

In an emailed statement, a CPD spokesperson pointed to recent advancements in tech that have aided detectives’ investigations, as well as the department’s family liaison officers in each of the five areas, who “solely focus on supporting and advocating for the victims’ families.”

“Our detectives work around the clock to seek justice for victims of senseless violence and their families,” the statement read. “Throughout the past few years, our bureau of detectives has implemented additional resources and practices to help strengthen homicide investigations while continuously working to build trust with community members so that they feel comfortable and safe coming forward with information.”

Search for new leadership

There are no “good old days” when it comes to violence in Chicago. Homicides and nonfatal shootings have, for decades, remained an all-too-common fact of life for thousands of residents.

In fact, more than 60 years have passed since Chicago ended a calendar year with fewer than 300 homicides.

With the historically violent summer months still approaching, the city has recorded 170 homicides through the first week of May — a 14% decrease from 2022, according to CPD data. The number of overall shooting incidents has also fallen by 10%.

The efforts to further lower the city’s gun violence totals and raise CPD’s clearance rate continue as the search for the next permanent CPD superintendent enters a new phase.

The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability was created by a city ordinance in 2021, and the new body must now narrow down the pool of job applicants for the new mayor’s consideration.

May 7 marked the deadline to apply for the job, and the commission must present Johnson with three finalists by mid-July. Anthony Driver Jr., president of the commission, said last week that 53 people had submitted an application to become the next police superintendent. Of those, 32 have ties to CPD.

Whomever Johnson selects will then be subject to approval by the full City Council. However, if Johnson doesn’t select any of the three finalists, he can order the commission to start the search process over.

Once sworn in, Johnson will hand the reins of the department to Fred Waller, a CPD veteran who retired in 2020 as the department’s chief of patrol. Waller, who was well-liked and respected by the rank and file during his 34 years with the CPD, did not apply for the permanent superintendent position, Driver said.

In recent weeks, the commission has organized four meetings for city residents to give feedback on what qualities they want in the department’s next leader. During the second meeting, a founder of an anti-violence group organized by the parents of homicide victims noted how the majority of shooting cases go unsolved.

“That’s a big concern of mine because my son was murdered, his case remains unsolved, too,” Pam Bosley, of Purpose Over Pain, told the commission during the meeting at St. Sabina Catholic Church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. “I’m looking for a superintendent that will work with the survivors, work with us, to get these cases solved.”

“If you don’t solve the cases, people are going to continue to shoot and kill because they know they have an 80% chance — they can shoot you down and (the police) might not catch you, most likely,” Bosley added. “I need a superintendent that’s willing to walk the streets with us, connect with us, the survivors.”

An end to ShotSpotter

The Police Department’s use of ShotSpotter gunshot-detection technology has come under repeated scrutiny in recent years, and those criticisms were renewed earlier this month with the fatal shooting of off-duty Officer Aréanah Preston outside her home in the Avalon Park neighborhood.

Police officials have said an alert from ShotSpotter came in as soon as Preston was shot, but the first officer didn’t arrive on the scene until about 30 minutes later, after Preston’s Apple Watch signaled that she was involved in a car crash.

ShotSpotter sensors are designed to identify the sound of gunfire and relay that information to police radio dispatchers. A 2021 report from the city’s office of the inspector general, however, found that “CPD responses to ShotSpotter alerts can seldom be shown to lead to investigatory stops which might have investigative value and rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime.”

During the campaign, Johnson pledged to “end the ShotSpotter contract” with the city. In a statement issued last March, Johnson said, “We all want public safety. However, more surveillance and more police are not making us safer.”

Different direction

Johnson’s overall pledge has been to take policing in the city down a new path. It will undoubtedly come with some resistance, as he was not endorsed by the city’s largest police union.

His promises are decidedly front-end when it comes to dealing with the city’s crime issue, including reopening mental health clinics, assisting youths in crisis and combating homelessness.

“We start by doubling youth summer employment to over 60,000 jobs,” his campaign website says, “targeting our most at-risk youth and building out a CPS Trauma Response Network.”

In addition to shelving ShotSpotter, he also has pledged to eliminate CPD’s controversial gang database, which logs police contacts with alleged gang members and their associates. Many have criticized that compilation as flawed and skewed by race.

Johnson’s results will be known in the future, but he seems to have no qualms about shaking up the status quo.

“The failures of the past have been repeated over and over. Meanwhile, carjackings, property theft and shootings are harming every neighborhood.” his website reads. “It’s time for a new approach.”

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