Feb 2, 2024 - News

Chicago police end "scarecrow policing" tactic downtown

Chicago police car

Chicago police car sits downtown in 2022. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Police cars with glaring blue lights have been removed from medians along high-traffic downtown areas.

Why it matters: The controversial practice of parking police cruisers on public roads with their flashers on to prevent crime has drawn criticism for racking up overtime and changing safety perceptions downtown.

What's happening: Chicago Police superintendent Larry Snelling shut down the practice Thursday.

  • "I don't believe in the scarecrow policing, where it's just serving as a deterrent," Snelling told the Sun-Times.

Context: The police cars — stationed on Michigan Avenue, State Street and several other corridors — bolstered CPD's presence downtown during and after the pandemic, when looting, carjackings, robberies and other crimes skyrocketed.

  • Former CPD chief David Brown created the "Strategic Deployment Initiative" in early 2022, which formalized the practice.
  • Snelling said curbing overtime costs is crucial, especially with the Democratic National Convention coming this summer.

What they're saying: "We're short by about 1,500 police officers in the patrol division right now," Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) tells Axios.

  • "If officers can be retasked so they're more engaged rather than babysitting an intersection, that's the smart thing to do."

Zoom out: Crime remains a problem in tourist areas downtown. After a recent crash-and-grab led to the shooting of an officer, Hopkins has sought to expedite permanent sidewalk barriers to keep cars from being used as battering rams for storefronts. Similar barriers surround the federal buildings downtown.

  • "The barriers have to be aesthetically pleasing," Hopkins tells Axios. "They can't just be jersey walls, which have been used temporarily. It just doesn't look right."
  • "Michigan Avenue still needs a strong police presence," says Hopkins. "But we simply don't have the resources right now to provide that presence."

The bottom line: Downtown crime is still a major issue, but both police and community leaders are changing up strategies to curb it.

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