The Chicago Police Reform Essays II (of VIII)

Part II: Reducing Violent Crime

Approximately two years ago, I was of the belief that I could still fix policing from the inside, if I were the Police Chief. I applied to the superintendent position for the Chicago Police Department. Part of that application involved answering essay questions. I am posting the answers to those questions, here, in an eight part series of eight minute reads, one each day. I had not yet evolved to the place where I am with the formulation of the Civilian-Led Policing framework, but there is value here in the development of the thoughts leading up to it. Some more on that is explained in a piece titled, We Know How to Fix Policing in America. We Do.

Find the rest of the series here: Part I;

Chicago has tried a number of strategies to reduce the rate of shootings, homicides and other serious violent crimes. What are the most effective methods of achieving reduction in these categories of crimes, and how would you effectuate them in Chicago?

Chicago and cities all around the nation have tried a number of strategies to reduce serious violent crime, but they have all involved different ways of combating the symptoms of crime through the criminal justice system and incarceration. We have discovered that this does not work; we must change the paradigm of what policing looks like. We must combat violent crime, and all other crime, by focusing on three approaches simultaneously, changing the battle to one against the root causes of criminal activity, creating a heavily resourced and trained investigations bureau tasked with justice for victims, and providing opportunities for serious introspection of what policing has been.

Root Causes

The evidence is becoming quite apparent that crime should be approached as a public health crisis. A psychologist who runs the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow did just that. Glasgow was deemed the murder capital of Europe for averaging approximately 70 homicides per year. Since Karyn McCluskey has been running that unit and treating violent crime as a public health crisis, homicides in Glasgow are down to 14. If the mission of the police is to dismantle crime, then we have to recognize the science that crime is a public health issue. Preventive measures are not prison cells, they are leading the charge for lead testing and elimination, remedying food deserts, and serving the community by making the criminal justice system the absolute last resort. Partnering with health departments, public organizations, and other resources to focus on the issues that foster the creation of low socio-economic opportunity, and low-socioeconomic opportunity crime is the most preventable type of crime we have. For instance, the link between hyper-segregation, redlining, and crime is undeniably present, exceptionally so in Chicago and Baltimore. The root cause of the crime is not the human being born into hyper-segregation, it is the hyper-segregation, which is what we should be focused on for preventive measures.

Dedicated Investigation

Where we fail at preventive measures, we turn to a highly trained and resourced investigations division. Resources cost money, but there is a way to bring the resources against violent crime without increasing the budget, and this method coincides with fighting the root causes of crime and rebuilding community trust. The solution is to divert resources to analytical tools of investigation and to combat violent crime, not petty crime and consensual adult agreements. The literature, global best practices, and non-profit groups, such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, support that at a very minimum the de-prioritization of enforcement is needed for certain offenses where the harm of the response is greater than the harm of the offense. Such offenses include, “consumption of alcohol on the streets, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, trespassing, loitering, disturbing the peace, [and] spitting (Elzie, Sinyangwe, McKesson, & Packnett, 2016). Equipment, overtime, incentives, personnel, and more shall be diverted so that detectives have the skills, training, time, and community trust necessary to focus on justice and providing for victims of violence.


Police must be introspective when it comes to prejudice. Actions become inherent, such as racial profiling, et cetera. The only hope is for strong mandating and peer influence to overcome prejudice actions (Wood Jr., 2012, pp. D-92).

We have to recognize that biased policing takes place, making the subjects of bias anticipate negative encounters. The expectation can translate to a negative encounter and then, in effect, the prophecy is fulfilled and becomes further reinforced. Reinforcement of the contact is spread among the community, creating a cycle of perceived and actual despair (Najdowski, L., & Goff, 2015, p. 475). The effect of despair contributes to the daily trauma invoked upon the biased, and this has historically eroded the community trust. Tragic, by itself, the trauma of biased treatment contributes to crime because it also has a self-fulfilling prophecy for the human being behind the badge, who unconsciously confirms their own bias. A confirmation of this bias leads to increased attention to the biased and dramatic disparities in criminal enforcement. Baltimore increased arrests and stop & frisks during an era in which I was a street cop and narcotics detective. I witnessed first hand, the policies in action. The increased attention goes where increased police attention always goes, the places where those biases were confirmed, for America, the darkest and poorest among us, reflected in the staggering disproportionality of police stops. This is true in New York City, Baltimore, and Chicago. When reflecting on the most effective methods of achieving a reduction in violent crime, an earlier writing of mine analogized the concept in regards to the crime rate in Baltimore:

Think of fighting crime like mowing the lawn and grass represents crime. The proponents of an aggressive response, develop big and strong lawn mowers to chop down the grass. They may be good at it, they may be great at it, but they only see with blinders on. They hate grass, mow down grass, and store the clippings in a bin away from the land. What they are not seeing is that their big and strong lawn mower is towing a spreader full of fertilizer and seeds. The fertilizer contains lack of opportunity, poor socioeconomic conditions, institutionalized racism, breaking down of families, hopelessness, over charging, power imbalances, corruption of justice, militarization, housing segregation, feeding of the prison complex, a war on drugs, and more. They rarely, if ever, stand back to notice that they are making the situation worse in the long term. (Wood Jr., 2015)

While many factors influence crime rates, NYC, Baltimore, and Chicago see this reality contribute to increases in violent crime after an incarceration delay and the proliferation of the perception cycle. Further confirming that this system is a significant contributor to the causations of crime is the evidence of the exact opposite being true. Partly done out of retribution, the NYPD has seen previously unfathomable low arrest rates and decreases in proactive enforcement result in new record lows for violent crime. Police actions of the past, influence the violent crimes of today and tomorrow because certain actions increase the lack of socio-economic opportunity that formulates the conditions ripe for criminal activity. An honest endeavor to attack crime, demands that we change the easiest aspect of crime causation, ourselves.

Michael Wood Jr. is a police management scholar who after spending a career in the USMC and Baltimore Police Department, took to dismantling the blue wall of silence and creating the pathway to reform; a model called Civilian-Led Policing. His fight for justice has included leading the historic Veterans for Standing Rock action in December of 2016, listening to the front lines of Black Lives Matter, opposing money in politics, and elevating the voices of others. You can find Michael in hundreds of media appearances, from HBO’s Fixing the System documentary with President Obama, to The Joe Rogan Experience, to published opinion pieces in The Guardian and Baltimore Sun, and everything in-between, where he furthers the discussion on criminal justice systems and institutions, and the needs of society.

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Edited by Dr. Michael Wood Jr., an internationally recognized public safety expert, and scholar of police management.

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Dr. Michael Wood Jr.

Dr. Michael Wood Jr.

USMC, BPD(ret), author “The Business of Policing”

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