As a first step toward fostering dialogue on how Chicago can “reimagine” public safety, Chicago CRED released a summary of nine focus groups with community partners on the South and West Sides of the city. The focus groups came on the heels of a city budget survey showing broad public support for shifting resources from policing into community services.

Marcus Yancey, a community development consultant, led the focus groups, which were conducted virtually during the months of September and October with participants recruited by organizations that partner with Chicago CRED to reduce gun violence. Yancey summarized the conversations, highlighting a broad range of issues, from trust and communications to diversity and the pressing need for more community investments.

In his report, Yancey said that there was little support for “defunding police” in the strict sense, but there was broad support for reallocating some of the police budget to fund community outreach, drug treatment, mental health and other services that could support a “public health” approach to fighting gun violence.

“Most participants in the discussions did not have a deep disdain for police officers, but many felt police officers were inefficient and overly aggressive at doing their jobs. It is also clear that many believe mental health and substance abuse are primary drivers of violence in our city,” Yancey wrote.

In addition to CRED, several violence preventions organizations helped recruit participants in the focus groups, including IMAN, Target Area Redevelopment Corporation, ALSO, and Institute for Non-Violence Chicago (INVC). Participants included outreach workers, life coaches, gun violence survivors, many of whom were formerly incarcerated, as well as community leaders, residents, and a few elected officials. The participants in the focus group were promised anonymity so they could speak freely about police. The report includes a broad selection of anonymous quotes chosen by Yancey and CRED Staff from more than 13 hours of taped focus groups.

CRED founder Arne Duncan welcomed the report as a first step in a much larger conversation Chicago needs to have about the root causes of gun violence and how the City can address it.

“People understand that police have a role to play but we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. Young people most at risk of shooting or being shot are the solution and we have to engage them directly while rebuilding their communities,” Duncan said.

As a next step, CRED will be sponsoring a series of open community meetings on the topic of reimagining public safety. CRED also plans to structure similar conversations with police and other stakeholders. CLICK HERE for the full report.

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