Police Superintendent Brown seeks another study on cop deployment

More than a year after he was given an analysis that raised questions about the effectiveness of Chicago police patrol response and assignments, Superintendent David Brown is now calling the study lacking, and he announced that he plans to seek his own officer deployment evaluation.

Brown made the statements last week at his first appearance of the newly seated Community Commission for Police Safety and Accountability, where he faced questions about how the department handles critical decisions about patrol assignments, including whether there is a disparity in how Chicago neighborhoods are policed.

Brown offered detailed responses about the study, which was done by the University of Chicago Crime Lab with input from the Police Department. The comments came three days after he appeared before the City Council budget committee, took questions on parts of the lab’s analysis and said he would give an alderman copies of the work, without mentioning that he was starting another study.

Brown told the Community Commission about the new study on Oct. 24. He said the Crime Lab study was “missing” some elements, including that non-patrol teams are on the street to help when violence increases. He added that the department does hourly evaluations of crime trends to deploy immediately to blocks in need and he pointed to a reduction in shootings and homicides citywide.

Three days later, the commission continued to express concerns about the department’s lack of transparency about what, if any, plan exists to decide long-term work assignments in the department.

“We appreciate that the superintendent came out and answered our questions in public and agreed to provide us with important data,” Commission President Anthony Driver Jr. said Thursday at the group’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting. “We’re going to need to work together, and Monday was a good step in that direction. But so far, we’ve learned very little that addresses the concerns we began with.

“We are deeply concerned that the communities that are suffering the most are still subject to slow response times and inadequate staffing at the times crime and violence occur the most,” continued Driver, a community activist and executive director of the SEIU Illinois State Council, who also told the Tribune that he has lost dozens of friends and family members to violence. “And we’re concerned that communities are routinely being policed by officers who don’t know the community, which is bad for residents and police officers.”

Driver, reached by the Tribune after the meeting, was skeptical about the need for a new study.

Having a workforce allocation plan that studies a variety of data, including response times and historic trends about where and when crimes happen, is standard for police departments. They need to ensure coverage that is sustained and matches the public safety issues in all communities, which have varying levels and types of crimes.

Police officers stand during the Chicago Police Department's graduation and promotion ceremony at Navy Pier, March 29, 2022.

Under a federal consent decree, the Chicago Police Department is mandated to develop a staffing model, with use of data, that allows for officers to be assigned to consistent shifts with the same supervisors as a way to achieve more “unity” and “control.”

The Crime Lab launched its effort to do such a comprehensive workforce allocation study in 2019.

The study was done pro bono. In a summary of the work, the lab said the project was seeking to build “efficiency, equity, and transparency in patrol staffing” and insulate the deployments from politics or pressure on where cops should work.

“The allocation of police department resources in most U.S. cities is based on the desires and intuition of key decision-makers and often winds up being highly political and unequal,” a summary of the workforce study released by the lab reads.

The summary also notes that CPD leadership helped to direct the scope and planning of the study. It said the department was working toward work assignment strategies, including that officers would be able to dedicate 60% of their time to responding to calls but still have 40% of their day for administrative or proactive work in the community.

The lab has for years worked with CPD to analyze data and publish findings.

While the lab conducted several preliminary analyses on this project, the work between the lab and the department stalled. In an emailed statement Monday, lab officials said that without being able to do its usual review and quality assurance, it has not made the analysis public.

The Tribune in an open records request in August obtained copies of three analyses that were part of the overall study. The records supplied to the Tribune were heavily redacted, and they were not the complete study.

There were key takeaways from the reports, despite the redactions. The findings released to the Tribune relied on GPS tracking to determine where and when officers assigned to three separate units were on the street.

Among the conclusions was that 14% of shootings are happening between midnight and 5 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in the city’s least safe areas, but just 3.8% of the work hours of Chicago patrol unit tactical teams were logged during that same 10-hour period. The analyses showed similar disconnects with the units assigned to patrol cars and those assigned to the citywide community safety teams.

In addition, an analysis showed how many patrol officers in each district responded to 15 or more calls in one month. A response was counted when an officer reported answering a 911 call or other dispatched events, such as a ShotSpotter alert.

For all districts combined, the number of officers responding to 15 or more calls per month was 3,000. There are about 11,500 sworn officers in the department, with most assigned to patrol.

Chicago police officers at the scene of a mass shooting at Polk Street and California Avenue in East Garfield Park, Oct. 31, 2022.

During the commission meeting, Brown was asked about the analyses, including the potential that patrol officer assignments don’t match with the times when violence happens.

Brown answered, in part, by saying the Crime Lab’s study had not accounted for when patrol officers get pulled away from their beats to help the detective division respond to shootings.

“I think that is the one deficiency,” he said. “… It didn’t include the investigative impact of resources for the districts that have the majority of the violence. It’s a significant challenge and drain of resources. …. That can account for a disparity.”

Driver then asked Brown if he was acknowledging a disparity, and he said no, but repeated that there is a significant drain on resources for areas with violence.

Brown did not address whether he considered such work, responding to shootings, the job of patrol officers.

Brown said that the department also uses non-patrol units to add presence and response on the street. But according to the GPS analyses obtained by the Tribune, the three units that were part of the study were nearly the only units on the street at the time.

Brown then told the commission he was seeking a “gold standard” study.

Ald. Matt Martin, 47th, who at the budget hearing had asked Brown for a copy of the analyses the Tribune was given, expressed concern that Brown is seeking a new study.

“Before we launch into a new study, let’s figure out first in an open and transparent way, what do the most recent studies say? And are we looking at whatever recommendations?” Martin said. “Are we just jumping from study to study to study?”

Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th, who has also asked for copies of the workforce study in the past, was also surprised by news of another study.

“It’s surprising and disappointing that the superintendent has not come to the City Council to seek funding for this important work,” he said. “That is something that members of the City Council will be following up with him about.”

The Tribune asked to speak to Brown about the commission’s comments and to clarify his criticisms of the lab study. He issued an emailed statement that nearly matched the statement he sent out in August.

“The Chicago Police Department continuously reviews and adjusts resources across the Department to enhance public safety and address crime patterns,” it read. “These precision deployments and strategic resource allocations, along with community partners and a whole-of-government approach to community building, have led to reductions in shootings and homicides this year. Year to date, homicides are down 15.88% and shootings are down 19.65% compared to the same time period last year.”

While shootings and homicides are down, they are adjusting from a historic two-year 60% spike that coincided with the pandemic and national unrest over policing practices.

Police deployments and assignments have long been a source of criticism amid concerns about whether all Chicago neighborhoods are afforded the kind of police response required. The issue has gotten more critical given the national surge in gun violence and the fact that in Chicago the violence spread across the entire city.

The newly seated Community Commission, which has authority to write and approve department policy, seek documents from the department and request the city’s inspector general to investigate, has made department assignments a priority, given the department’s $1.9 billion proposed budget and the fact that more than two-thirds of that money is dedicated to personnel costs.

Chicago police Superintendent David Brown speaks during a hearing on the Chicago Police Department budget at City Hall on Oct. 21, 2022.

In addition to concerns over the potential disparities in policing among districts, commissioners queried Brown about how much he relies on the use of citywide units to add extra coverage in areas where there is violence.

Such movement of officers into neighborhoods for patrol responsibilities means they are less likely to know the area and also at risk for having less supervision, something that runs the risk of fraying relationships between police and the community, commissioners said.

“If these individuals are in citywide units … are you going to (be) allocating those resources so the same individuals are in the same districts, in the same location, getting acquainted with the community, all of those gold standard things?” asked commission member Yvette Loizon, a private attorney who has served as both a prosecutor and the chief legal counsel for Illinois State Police. “Can you elaborate what that plan looks like?”

Brown and his chief of patrol, Brian McDermott, explained that they use historic crime data for all assignments. McDermott also said that each day he draws personnel from the detective division, the office of constitutional policing and counterterrorism bureau to add support to neighborhoods.

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Loizon asked whether they are tracking how often these outside units are in the same neighborhoods, providing continuity. McDermott said the department tries to do that but acknowledged it is not “100%.”

When asked about the potential lack of personnel on the street at the times when violence is surging, McDermott said the department had prioritized the 55 least safe beats and that he evaluated by the hour to move resources “from other areas of the city to assist” as needed.

“It is a constant moving people around and doing our best to put the resources in the right places at the right time,” McDermott said.

Chicago criminologist Wesley Skogan, who listened to the hearing, said what McDermott described is a critical part of providing public safety. But it is more of an “emergency response.”

A deeper workforce “planning system” for deployments should also be the goal, although Skogan acknowledged it can be complicated by everything from shifting crime patterns to union contracts,

In a follow-up email, Skogan, who is a professor at Northwestern University, said the goal should still be a data-driven plan that is used to “continually update baseline personnel assignments.”

“Deviations from this in response to events, intelligence, strategic initiatives would then be transparent,” he said.

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