by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck has announced a sweeping reorganization of the department on Thursday, to move most detectives and gang intelligence and narcotics officers directly under the command of district commanders.
The department also will create a new Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform Management to oversee the changes mandated by an ongoing federal consent decree. Barbara West, the department’s highest ranking African American woman, will oversee that office, which will also include the police academy.
“We believe that consent decree compliance is the key to an effective Police Department, and we’re going to elevate the status of that compliance to the same level that we use for traditional policing,” Beck said at a news conference on Thursday.
West will have the title of deputy superintendent, and will be equal in rank to First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio, who will run the Office of Operations, which will oversee detectives, patrol officers, and counter-terrorism units.
A new Bureau of Counter-terrorism and Special Operations also will effectively replace the existing Bureau of Organized Crime. The bureau will be tasked with handling all international and domestic criminal enterprise cases. It also will include the department’s SWAT teams, bomb squads, mounted units, airport operations, and public transit units.
While Beck is running the Chicago Police Department on a temporary basis while the Chicago Police Board and Mayor Lori Lightfoot search for a permanent superintendent, Beck said he always intended to make whatever changes he believed are necessary while he’s here. He said the changes he’s planning were coordinated with the mayor.
“The mayor didn’t hire me to be a place-keeper. She didn’t hire me just to keep the lights on. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t expected that I would achieve significant results in the short time that I’ll be here,” he said.
Beck’s overhaul is designed to give district commanders more direct authority for responding to violent crime.
The department will move more than 800 gang intelligence and narcotics officers and 300 robbery, theft, and burglary detectives into the department’s 22 districts. Those units currently operate largely independent of one another.
“CPD as an entity was siloed, with a lot of people responsible for problems in the same geography. This concentrates the accountability under the geographic chiefs and commanders,” Beck said.
Beck said, because area deputy chiefs and district commanders are held responsible for responding to violence in their neighborhoods, they need to have more direct command over the resources required to keep crime in check.
“Up until now, they may or may not have the solution at hand to fix the problem. If it’s a narcotics issue, then they have to call narcotics. If it is a gang investigation issue, they’ve got to call gang investigations. If it’s connected to vice, they’ve got to call vice. This gives them the resources to directly affect a problem,” Beck said.
Homicide detectives will remain in separate regional sections from other detectives, and for the first time CPD will have a dedicated citywide homicide section. The department currently divides the districts into three areas, but will move to five areas by April, each with its own homicide division, under the direct command of the area’s deputy chief, rather than the chief of detectives.
“We think it is a robust model that is state-of-the art for policing, and that will allow CPD to do even a better job than it’s doing,” Beck said.
The changes will be phased in over the next several months, in part because the department is still in the process of reopening and equipping two detective areas that were shut down in 2012. The two new area headquarters are expected to be up and running by April, following $5 million in renovations.
Beck said the overhaul means roughly 23 of the department’s 88 command officers will be getting promotions. The superintendent said many top-ranking officers left the department after former Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was fired in December, giving him leverage to make significant changes to the department’s command structure.
The reorganization also is partly a response to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum, which found the department was not focusing enough on non-fatal shootings and didn’t have a designated homicide unit.
The report recommended moving detectives closer to the neighborhoods they serve, which the changes are designed to accomplish.
Beck said his command staff understandably had many questions about the changes when he informed them of the plans for the overhaul, but he said “I foresee strong support, universal support for this.”
“We had a long discussion, and like any good boss, I took all the questions that I could take, but then we walk out of that room with unity of purpose. We are, as a team, going to make this work,” he said.