Can Charlie Beck Help Chicago Join the ‘Modern Policing Revolution’?

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Charlie Beck

Charlie Beck. Photo by Ruperto Miller via Flickr

Former Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck will head the Chicago Police Department as interim superintendent, a temporary role normally reserved for a department insider, the Chicago Tribute reports.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s choice to run the department during an expected months-long search for a permanent replacement for retiring Superintendent Eddie Johnson was praised by Beck’s former boss in their makeover of the LAPD, William Bratton, as a “good move.”

Beck, 66, served 42 years with LAPD, 8 1/2 as chief, until his retirement in 2018. Back then he told TCR’s West Coast bureau chief, Joe Domanick, that success as a reform-minded chief means “you change culture by everything you do… One of my core beliefs is that the way a chief treats his cops is the way that they will treat the community.”

Whoever takes over will face a dramatically altered political landscape with the landslide April election of Mayor Lightfoot, who campaigned on a platform of police reform.

“The Chicago police have never gone through the modern policing revolution. This is the best moment the city has had as far as I am concerned to ever deal critically with these public safety and legitimacy issues,” said David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has worked in the past with Chicago police on anti-violence efforts.

“And if this period doesn’t produce progress, that is an enormous lost opportunity and (is) tragic for the city. This makes that choice extraordinarily important.”

Beck’s agreement to take the job means Chicago will, at least temporarily, have guidance from a former head of a large-city police force who has helped lead a department through court-mandated reform but also launched programs that shifted enforcement away from strict reliance on aggressive, arrest-driven policing to more engagement with residents on creating safer communities.

With about 4 million people, L.A. is more populous than Chicago but has a similar history of crime problems. Entrenched gangs have divided blocks and neighborhoods in both cities.

But today, the differences are stark: Through October, Chicago had 424 homicides and 2,242 shooting victims, according to official Chicago police statistics.
In LA, statistics through Nov. 2 show 220 homicides and 822 people shot.

“We need to have a police superintendent (who) is not afraid to go against the grain. We have to have someone who has backbone enough to stand up for justice and equity,” said Chicago community organizer Mecole Jordan.

“Standing up for justice means being inclusive and understanding of various perspectives and not just one side. In the past, we have had several superintendents who were only about law and order and what was better for the Police Department.”

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