Back to the Beat - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Back to the Beat

To reduce gun violence in Chicago, we must recommit to supporting true beat-based community policing and the neighborhood engagement that is critical for its success.

Photo credit: Chicago Police Department

25th District Police Officer interacts with the community

Flashing blue lights stopped me in my tracks on a Sunday morning in August.  Riding my bicycle from our Boxville shipping container initiative at 51st Street and the Green Line to my office a mere 150 feet west on the empty sidewalk made sense as I needed to finish preparing for our weekly farmers market. However, one cop car quickly became two as backup was called and I was pulled over and ticketed.

At that same time gun violence erupted across our city. By the end of that summer weekend, 74 people had been shot, 12 fatally - crazy numbers even by Chicago standards.  And our standards are bad.  With a total of 650 homicides in 2017, Chicago had 7.1 times more homicides per resident than New York City, 3.3 times more than Los Angeles, and more than twice as many as Houston. 

Nothing stops a bullet like a job, and we have much work to do to return jobs and hope to our most challenged neighborhoods. We also have to fix our badly broken beat-based community policing system.

"Revitalizing community policing by refocusing city resources on the beat, using technology to revamp the beat approach, and reengaging local leaders is critical to rebuild police-resident relationships"

A beat is the basic geographic unit for delivering police services, with the goal of facilitating strong relationships between cops and residents. Unfortunately, as a Bronzeville resident, business owner and frequent recent participant in beat meetings, I have found that few such relationships exist. Most of my neighbors know few if any of our beat cops, and many beat meetings are poorly attended, likely due to limited information sharing and little true problem solving. As a result, we do a poor job of preventing gun violence and an even worse job at bringing perpetrators to justice.

To reduce gun violence in Chicago, we must recommit to supporting true beat-based community policing and the neighborhood engagement that is critical for its success.

In May, the Metropolitan Planning Council—of which I’m a board member— released its roadmap to advance racial equity in the region. As part of its recommendations, they cite the need to 1) hire a Chief of Diversity and Inclusion to lead a broad range of reforms including training, beat orientation, officer deployment and recruitment and retention of people of color and 2) ensure every officer is trained as a community police officer and community policing is embraced department wide.

I support these recommendations and offer a few of my own:

  1. Refocus city resources on the beat. The beat team approach must be restructured to re-connect team members, with residents and other beat stakeholders.  This should include a variety of efforts, from getting officers out of their cars to walk the street, to introducing team members at key events and mandating that beat team members pay regular visits to key enterprises within the beat. Names, images, and roles of beat team members should be broadly available, and beat stakeholders should be able to readily contact designated shift leaders.  
  1. Bring information technology to the beat.  Some residents still work best with paper and pencil. For many others, email and SMS technology linked to cloud-based information sets can be employed to optimally share beat information and build neighborhood participation and connectedness. Technology can transform today’s rigid meeting- and paper-based, hierarchical information sharing approach to a much more flexible, high-bandwidth, and neighborhood-centered approach.
  1. Reengage local leaders.  Lastly, let’s tap the individuals who are already leaders of their blocks. These leaders aren’t hard to find: they are the ones organizing cleanup efforts, staging block parties, mentoring young people, looking after seniors, working to open a corner store, and calling block club meetings. They are well known in their neighborhood. They must be identified and invited as a key step for broader neighborhood engagement. They’ll join a serious effort.

Reducing violent crime must be our #1 job. Making it happen will require work on many fronts, including creating opportunity and engaging young people in our most challenged neighborhoods. Revitalizing community policing by refocusing city resources on the beat, using technology to revamp the beat approach, and reengaging local leaders is critical to rebuild police-resident relationships, enable effective problem solving, and ensure that our police stops gun violence rather than bikes.


MPC Board of Governors member Bernard Loyd lives in Bronzeville with his family. After more than a decade working with corporations around the world as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, Inc., he has re-focused his time on revitalizing his community. The suggestions in this article were developed from his involvement as resident, community developer and beat-meeting participant. They are meant to amplify and extend recommendations made by a Community Policing Advisory Panel commissioned by CPD Superintendant Eddie Johnson in 2017.  

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