As REALTORS®, we are integral members of our communities, working together to ensure Chicago remains a vibrant place to live, work and play. We’ve heard from many of you that public safety remains top of mind. We took your concerns to City Hall, the result of which was an exclusive sit down with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown in early April.
“All the great things that are happening in our city, and there are many, pale in comparison if people fundamentally don’t feel safe. Getting that right, and not only creating the perception of safety but the reality of safety, is our number one focus every single day,” the mayor said. Together, we discussed solutions to public safety concerns on behalf of all our neighborhoods.
FROM THE MAYOR
Mayor Lightfoot started by directly addressing many of the concerns we brought to her office on your behalf. “You’re rightfully worried about the uptick in crime that we’ve seen over these last two years. I empathize with your concerns and know that our city’s reputation regarding violence impacts your work directly…Public safety is the priority. Period.”
She laid out why violence is so prevalent in Chicago: systemic racism and disinvestment in Black and Brown communities – the same communities with the highest rates of violence. “When we have starved our neighborhoods of resources, infrastructure, jobs [and] good schools, we starve them of hope and optimism. When a young child grows up in those circumstances and doesn’t see the possibilities for their life beyond their current circumstance, they believe what society reinforces around them: their life has no meaning. And when a child believes their life has no meaning, they do not appreciate the sanctity of life and property for others.”
Mayor Lightfoot noted that spikes of violence are not foreign to Chicago. “In this city, people who have lived here for decades have never known true peace in certain neighborhoods… So, while this former federal prosecutor is all about making sure we hold violent, dangerous people accountable, what I know is that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We have to invest our way out of this problem if we are truly going to bring peace to our neighborhoods – the neighborhoods where you’re trying to sell homes, sell lifestyles. If we want to lift up the quality of life in all our 77 neighborhoods, we’ve got to come together and invest.”
Her administration budgeted $1.2 billion in housing and infrastructure investments: streetscapes, roads, alleys, bridges and tunnels. “When you see the change physically in the topography of these communities, you start to get people to believe in themselves,” she said.
The city is also laser focused on vacant lots, 10,000 of which are city owned. “Imagine the possibilities of what those could become,” the mayor said. “The goal is to turn those into housing, retail and amenities communities need to feel vibrant and whole.”
Following community feedback, they are adding and improving green spaces where communities can gather. “That’s what our residents all over the city, particularly in those neighborhoods most challenged by crime, have told us they want.” That includes planting 75,000 trees – “one of my favorite investments…because we know from studies that green spaces, and particularly trees, not only help the urban canopy and sustainability, but if maintained, are themselves a violence deterrent.”
The other aspect of their “people investment:” block clubs. “When people know their neighbors, when they aren’t afraid of who’s on the other side of them, they take ownership of that block.” The city provides resources to both form and support block clubs, which can facilitate safe community gatherings for neighbors to come together.
But all these investments don’t help, she notes, if we don’t “shore up the short game, which is holding violent, dangerous people accountable.” The mayor talked about regular meetings with the police department’s senior leadership, as well as their commitment to the Community Safety Coordination Center, where “every single person who works for city government [who] touches anything related to community safety, literally sits in the same space and coordinates on what we can do [together].”
Those meetings were the genesis for a new program providing cameras and lighting for homes and GPS devices for cars in case of theft. The goal: “giving people power and tools so they feel like they can take ownership and responsibility for their own safety.” The program also creates a database for the Chicago Police Department to contact owners if an incident occurs outside their property to ask to view their camera footage.
FROM THE POLICE SUPERINTENDENT
Police Superintendent Brown noted the police department’s fivepoint strategic plan, the final two parts of which are tied directly to public safety: public safety enforcement (“what we do to hold violent offenders accountable”) and investigations.
Did you know:
- Shootings are down 15% year to date.
- Homicides are down 6% year to date.
- Nearly 60% of carjacking offenders are teenagers and pre-teens.
“Our police officers are dedicated to arresting you and charging you with the crimes you commit [regardless of your age], but policing is not just enforcement,” he said. “Policing is prevention, enforcement, investigations and adjudication – what our courts do, which the mayor and I don’t control. What we can control is, once we make an arrest on a young person, a juvenile or a preteen, then we can say, ‘Is that going to be a solution to that young person’s behavior?’ We know that the courts are not going to give a young person life in prison, and that they’re going to be released to their parent or guardian. And we see young people arrested over and over and over again.”
Seeing this pattern, police are working on more cohesive, collaborative solutions focused on prevention. He gave an example of an 11-year-old who was arrested for running a carjacking ring, with 20 key fobs in his possession. Working together with the Chicago Public School system, they got him back in school, enrolled him in a program called Choose to Change and paired him with a mentor who ensures he gets up, gets dressed, gets breakfast and gets to school. Since enrolling in the program, he hasn’t missed a day of school, made the honor roll and hasn’t committed any other carjackings. “Enforcement is part of our job, but you will be missing our complete job if you didn’t look at our department to collaborate on the prevention side. The best way to prevent crime, all crimes, is to prevent them from happening in the first place,” he said.
But it’s not just prevention and enforcement: “lowering the case[load] per detective…increases our ability to hold violent offenders accountable.” Hiring more detectives to investigate and clear cases is a priority, with over 200 additional detectives assigned to violent crimes over the last three months (editor’s note: January, February and March 2022).
YOUR QUESTIONS, ANSWERED
IF YOU WERE A REALTOR®, HOW WOULD YOU SELL THE CITY GIVEN THE CURRENT HEADLINES, NARRATIVE, AND STATISTICS?
Mayor Lightfoot: We had a phenomenal 2021 economically. We have consistently throughout the pandemic (and to this day) had the lowest unemployment rate of any big city in the country. We have the most diverse economy in any city in the country. If we were a country, Chicago would be ranked 22nd in the world because of the vibrancy of our economy.
We had 173 companies last year make what we call “pro-Chicago decisions”: that’s either relocate here from elsewhere in the world… [or for those based here] expand their footprint because of who we are and the strengths of our economy.
We had $9 billion in investments in a pandemic, $7 billion in venture capital investments, which broke a record from the previous year of $2.8 billion. We are now ahead of Seattle for venture capital investment in the United States. We had 12 companies last year minted as unicorns, those with a billion dollars in valuation.
None of you probably heard a single one of these data points. Our economy is the strongest of any major city in the country, bar none. Now, we have our challenges like all big cities do, public safety being chief among them. But don’t let anybody tell you that Chicago is not a great, vibrant city in which to live.
With the kind of transformative investments, we are now able to make because of the American Rescue Plan money and because of our own investments, we are going to transform this city for the better. Our economy is strong, our communities are thriving and we are tackling our challenges head-on and making progress.
SOME AFFLUENT NEIGHBORHOODS HIRE OFF-DUTY POLICE OFFICERS AND PRIVATE SECURITY GUARDS TO PATROL THEIR COMMUNITIES ON NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THE CITIZENS WHO HAVE OPTED TO BYPASS THE SYSTEM ENTIRELY AND DO THAT?
Mayor Lightfoot: If people have the means to enhance their safety, then obviously we’re not going to discourage that, but with this caveat: they’ve got to be working in coordination with us. Somebody gets shot or gets robbed, who are you calling – your private security company? No, you’re calling 911. You’re calling us. There’s got to be a level of collaboration. [And] I want to make sure, frankly, that if something goes amiss, they are going to indemnify the city for any lawsuit that follows.
I get that people in some affluent communities are now experiencing a level of crime and discomfort that frankly, people in neighborhoods on the south and west side have been experiencing for decades. That doesn’t make it better or right, but we get it, and we know that people are very deeply concerned about their security. But we’ve got to collaborate. We will not be able to move forward, and we will not solve these problems for the long term, if we don’t collaborate and communicate.
Police Superintendent Brown: When you have to make a criminal report, it’s the Chicago Police Department. When you have to follow up on the investigation of what happened, it’s the Chicago Police Department. When you have to charge someone with a crime, it’s the Chicago Police Department. There’s no bypassing the Chicago Police Department trying to buy an extra layer of security.
I would encourage any neighborhood that’s doing this to make sure you collaborate with the police department. Our officers will come out. They’ll advise you on some of the concerns we’ve expressed from a liability standpoint to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck if you go in that direction.
CRIME AND POVERTY HAVE A STRONG CORRELATION. REVERSING GENERATIONS OF INEQUITY AND DISINVESTMENT WON’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR PLANS TO ERADICATE POVERTY? WHAT WORDS OF REASSURANCE DO YOU HAVE FOR US, THE EVERYDAY CHICAGOANS, WHILE WE WEATHER THAT STORM?
Mayor Lightfoot: We can’t neglect the reality that there are some violent, dangerous people preying upon our residents every single day. We have to stay diligent about sending a very clear and strong message to them, arresting them, preventing them from doing more harm, and then once they’re arrested, making sure the prosecutors – and particularly the courts – hold them accountable.
But we also must understand the root causes of these problems. What is it that made the 11-year-old become a prolific leader – leader, not bystander, not passenger, but leader – of a carjacking crew? His life was coming apart; he had no positive adult presence in his life. The minute we were able to intervene to provide him with a loving, supportive mentor who holds him accountable, who literally goes to his house every day to make sure he’s up, fed and on his way to school, his life started to turn around. We’ve got to do a better job as a city to provide love and support to our children at the earliest possible stage to make sure that no matter the circumstances in which they are born or are living, and no matter the zip code, they see the future – and them in it – in a positive and productive way.
If we can disrupt the systems that lead to our children and young adults going to the streets, we can turn around the fortunes of our city from a public safety standpoint to be sure, but we can also turn around the lives of those young people and their families. It will have a ripple effect across our neighborhoods.
Police Superintendent Brown: [And] not every kid on the south and west side is struggling with criminality; some of our kids are doing very well. You ask, “what can we do to help?” Our kids on the south and west side need the same type of opportunities that your kids have in the summers: internships. Kids who are not struggling are still in this environment, and you can have a significant impact on the way they think about their lives going forward. If you want to help, host internships this summer for young people from the south and west sides.
Mayor Lightfoot: And we will foot the bill. The superintendent is right. You cannot be what you cannot see. [REALTORS®] are vital to communities, small businesses and hiring, but being that mentor [figure] will benefit these young people for the rest of their lives.
One Summer Chicago brings together government institutes, community-based organizations and companies to offer employment and internship opportunities to youth and young adults. Visit their website for more information on how to participate as an organization and support Chicago’s youth this summer.