“Fixing” the Police

By Garry McCarthy

February 22, 2023

“…I’m asking you to be the police.

That is what our residents are asking for.”


The world of policing is upside down. Especially here in Chicago.

That is because politics are dictating police policy.

We now listen to mayoral candidates prattle on about how to “fix” the problems of crime and proper policing, but it is clear that most have no understanding of how to do it.

We hear about jobs, economic development, inclusion, equity, building trust, civilian oversight, accountability and so on. Sounds great!

How do we go about it, and what works?

Essentially, policing has abandoned its core mission of providing for the public safety in search of trust. We paint fences, dance at block parties, pump gas, take seniors food shopping. All nice things to do, without a doubt.

Does it work? No. We look foolish to the criminals who are even more emboldened by this appearance of ambivalence, if not outright weakness. The methods being used to build trust have resulted in its erosion by undermining our legitimacy, while diverting valuable resources to another failed effort.

It is an ongoing commitment to a faulty process. The result is an explosion of lawlessness. We have thrown out the baby with the bath water. The castigation of our profession has had dire consequences that we are seeing nationally.

We can’t build trust without first building legitimacy. Our legitimacy comes from doing our job and making people safe. There are long term solutions, and short term solutions. Make no mistake, we certainly need economic development, jobs and opportunity to succeed. But those are long-term goals that won’t happen until we first provide for the public safety.

Unfortunately, what is being offered is public relations over public protection.

Where is the plan? There is no plan.

We have proven that the police can reduce crime, and do it in a constitutional fashion, with greater citizen satisfaction.

I oversaw New York City’s crime strategy for seven years as the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner Operations. I helped create the playbook that continued the downward trend of crime, complaints against officers and police related shootings. We took that plan to Newark NJ in 2006, with the same results. Cory Booker is a U.S . Senator today in part because of those results.

In Chicago, we created the Chicago Plan, taking the blueprint we improved on in Newark and made it Chicago centric, addressing the gang violence that plagues this city, by preventing retaliation as soon as a shooting occurred. We did that through data driven policing, knowing which gangs were in conflict, knowing where their “turfs” were, and who the members were.

We deployed resources to the rival gang turf quickly after a shooting occurred, preventing the next one.

We created beat and geographic integrity by eliminating citywide units and putting the same officers in the same beats everyday. We pushed down authority and accountability to the beat level.

Working with the top criminologists in the country, we created Police Legitimacy training that the
Department of Justice adopted and brought police departments from across the country to Chicago to learn from us and replicate in their jurisdictions.

Most importantly, we created internal career paths, with clear methods for advancement.

What were the results? In 2014, we had the lowest murder rate in Chicago since 1965. At the same time, we reduced overall crime, police related shootings, and complaints against officers, while increasing citizen satisfaction.

To create external legitimacy, we must start internally, within the Chicago Police Department. If we expect officers to treat the public with fairness and respect, we must treat our officers the same way. This current administration has destroyed that internal legitimacy…intentionally, politically, and unapologetically.

As a result of having no discernible plan to correct the problem, police officers suffer, citizens suffer and politicians gain cheap campaign taglines.

Certainly, if an officer violates the law, they should be prosecuted. If they violate policy, they should be disciplined. They also should have the opportunity to advance their career based upon their work ethic and talent. There needs to be a career path within the agency, not a game of chutes and ladders based upon who you know.

Sadly, we’ve put the cart before the horse. It might sound great to throw around platitudes and buzz words, but that is part of the systematic failure that we are experiencing now.

As a result, the city is drowning in crime.

Alderman Jason Ervin put it best at the police budget hearing in October when he told Superintendent David Brown, “… I’m not asking you to be a social worker. I am not asking you to be a mental health counselor. I’m not asking you to be a basketball coach. …I’m asking you to be the police. That is what our residents are asking for.”

If they can see it, why can’t everyone else?

It is time to declare failure and move on.

The city is dying, awash in lawlessness.


Garry is currently the Chief of police for the village of Willow Springs, Illinois. Prior to his law enforcement position in Willow Springs, Garry was the Police Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department 2011-2015, the Police Director of the Newark,N. J. Police Department 2006-2011, and 25 years with the New York City Police Department ,becoming the Deputy Commissioner of Operations, as the principal crime control strategist for the nation’s largest police Department. He is also CEO of McCarthyByrnes, providing investigations, security, and security consulting services. His email is gfm@mccarthybyrnes.com


Comments 29

  1. Excellent article. One thing I always appreciated about Garry when he was the Superintendent of Police in Chicago was that he was accessible and accountable to the news media.

    1. First, you get rid of qualified immunity. Next, you rid the culture of The Thin Blue Line. Police must be dedicated to law and order first, not their partner.Rotating shifts and report locations might be a start. Raise the mandatory retirement age to 68 not 63. For new hires, 25 years of service not 20 for a pension. Then, hire a lot more cops. But only if the culture changes. Fund The Police !

  2. I believe that certain members of the public, chiefly the “activists,” are mistaken about the role of police in our system of government. Police are law enforcement, not an agency of extra-legal vigilantes whose only purpose is to terrorize the citizenry. The police are tasked with the responsibility to enforce the laws written and passed by elected representatives. Therefore, if the enforcement of law is dysfunctional within our current society, change the law, not the police. To not do so, would be akin to closing a wound without suturing an artery.
    Now that Chicago is set to have an elected council on oversight (another city institution which is sure to become bloated and corrupt), empowered with the ability to set policy within the department and approve the department’s leadership, I see some dark times ahead. After all, policing is not supposed to be “democratic,” and those who were pushing for this are sure going to get the monkey’s paw.
    I believe the city is giving into the tyranny of the public, rather than functioning as a local unit of our nation’s system of republican governance. The answer to our issues is not another government council (or commission, board, committee, department, or bureau), but the reduction of the scope of government over the citizenry.

    1. Looking from the outside, as one of those people who walked with their feet, out of Chicago, I believe the problem of lawlessness in Chicago and other Democratic cities will continue for years. With many of the current DAs, judges, and laws passed such as the SAFETY act, promoting this soft on crime, “no bail” vision. When police arrest an individual for a serious offense and then they are back on the street before their victims are out of the hospital, how do you think the victim feels, and how do you think the police feel? The laws are protecting the criminal and not the victim, the neighborhoods or the police. Many times the police will arrest the same individual for the same crime, once they are released.

      But this is all on you Chicago. You keep re-electing these insane politicians, who promote these insane policies, like Kim Fox, Toni Preckwinkle, Tim Evans, and a mayor and police super intendant who are so way over their heads, and unqualified.

      Chicago, wake up and vote for a leader who is willing to do all of the pragmatic things that are necessary to make Chicago the once great, safe city it was. A leader who loves the city and doesn’t care about getting re-elected as much as doing the right thing for the city. The current list of candidates is really weak, except perhaps for Paul Vallas or Willie Wilson.

      I wish Chicago the best, but I don’t see things changing anytime soon!

  3. Great column Chief McCarthy, this is all great stuff, you said what needed to be said, but I’ll go one, or two further, and say a few things you did not say.

    Namely. The race, color, creed, gender, nationality, religion, profession, or any other demographic designation of the perp should have no bearing on whether they are arrested, tried, and convicted. Extenuating circumstances are for the judge to decide at sentencing.

    How many gang members or affiliates are actually in the police force? His many have direct ties to the city council, city hall, and the state and county offices? There can be no other explanation for the drugs and general lawlessness going on. Someone is getting paid off.

    How else with all the spying capability we have and the military style gear we have, not to mention the forensic accounting capabilities, that we cannot track down who is profiting from the drug trade and many major theft rings. Any police with half a brain who work in the same district for a few months knows exactly who the punks are, what they’re doing, and where. With the firepower we have, and existing laws on the books, I can only conclude that someone, somewhere is getting paid off.

    The Patriot Act and so many other laws have enabled the gathering of information as never before, and yet, our assets are only deployed to keep the big shots and their property safe. Sleepy Joe can go to Ukraine, but a senior citizen can’t go to the Jewel in the middle of the day, a kid cannot walk to school? Come on Garry, who’s on the take?

    As long as we care more about the demographics of the perps and not about keeping people safe, we are screwed.

    How can so many “people of color” in positions of authority turn their back on law abiding hard working “black and brown” people, and take the side of scum who sell drugs, rob, and put a gun in your face and take your car? Not to mention LL never reopened the mental health centers and did squat to help the homeless despite billions in Covid money.

    How can so many “reverends” support these do nothing pols year after year and take their city and county contracts while blaming everyone else but the fathers for not parenting their children?

    The people, the city, schools, police were decried racist, and now you’ve got “people of color” up and down the chain calling the shots and things are worse for black folks in the city than even when Daley ran things. The quality of life sucks for working lower middle class ands the poor. People are, as Kass says, voting with their feet. We’ve lost thousands of hard working black families, and encouraged poverty and lawlessness through our neglect and governmental incompetence. Black families are choosing Indiana and the supposedly racist South over Cook County and the City of Chicago.

    Who’s the racist?

    Let the police be the police.
    Let’s hold our elected officials accountable.
    Let’s hold our clergy accountable.
    Let’s hold the School board and Superintendent accountable and demand actual schooling instead of the over priced coddling and day care centers we are actually posing as schools.
    Let the teachers teach.

    If people do not feel safe going into the city, riding the CTA, driving on the Expressway even, the city can never move forward.

    We tried the woke, LGBTQ thing, Toni and her sensible shoes, the “genius” of Kim Foxx, the absolute hypocrisy and utter contempt of the people of Tim Evans’s, it has been a disaster.

    Chicago needs a “wet” Mayor. We need Paul Vallas. He’s not Jesus though. He needs our help to do the job that needs to be done. We’ll need to hold him accountable too.

    Term limits
    Banning of PACS and lobbyists
    Public financing of campaigns
    Advisory referenda to drive policy and legislation, taxes and borrowing
    Transparent audits
    Strict ethics rules with draconian penalties for violations
    eliminate pensions for all elected officials
    Eliminate lifetime bliss cross for all elected officials
    Increase the expense accounts, but Cut the pay of all elected officials in half.
    Cap all existing pensions, and all going forward at 10 grand a month, with increases the same as Social Security gets.
    Put referenda on the ballot proposing all of these things and see what the people want and ban Pritzker and another other dark money from lying like they did about SAFE T, FAIR TAX, and all the other crooked things theyve proposed.

    1. Wow. You said it alright. I haven’t spent one thin dime in Chicago for years and don’t have any plans to unless I can feel safe walking to a theatre or anywhere on either State Street or Michigan Avenue. We used to come down especially at Christmas time for a long weekend and haven’t in years. Maybe the last time was in 2018. I miss the things the big city had to offer but have found fun things to do in Geneva, Galena and other such smaller cities with no thoughts of turning back Good luck Chicago. I hope you vote with your heads and your hearts, not with your eyes closed.

    2. Whoa! Damn, u r rite on. I am writing u in 4 mayor and I don’t even live in the city!
      U r completely correct: drugs, prostitution, sex trade, robbery gangs etc r all protected not only by cops/law enforcement, but by judges, defense attorneys, sheriff’s offices, states attorneys, anyone elected or appointed to office.
      Also, all law enforcement must be held to top physical condition. Must pass a rigid physical training and exam yearly. Flunk once give a 2nd chance, flunk 2nd test u gone. How many fat gutted and ass cops do we see. How many can catch a bad guy? So they use a gun. Wrongfully sometimes. Enough.
      T. A. Rudd, MS, MD

  4. The absolute best, Police Chief I can remember Chicago ever having! I just wish we could have him back. He did everything right and the results proved it.

  5. Sure, those ideas are part of the right medicine, but without other changes in both Chicago and in Illinois, and rules and policy changes in the judicial system, which are the back stop for law enforcement, what can really change?

    Does Chicago even want law and order?

    Don’t see how policing can return to legitimacy under the current legal and judicial system and under the direction of the current politicians now in office, with both groups rigged against legitimacy. The soldiers who are charged to enforce law and order do not have leaders above them who support their cause, and worse, the rules of engagement make it nearly impossible for them to do their work.

  6. Hallelujah! A person who is finally coming out to say that cops dancing with kids makes for a cute video but doesn’t fix the problems of trust in a community. EVERYTHING whether it is parenting, teaching, or policing comes down to trust and authority. People in authority are to do their jobs respectfully but are not there make friends.

    You build trust by being trustworthy. If there is a crooked cop get rid of him/her. Coverups lead to mistrust. Just ask the Catholic Church.

    Once again, however, we run into the problem of police morale with Kim Foxx as State’s Attorney. Police can do their jobs but if the criminals are back on the street in a day, officers feel their work is futile. Plus she seems to be on a mission to handcuff police officers.

    Then you have the citizens themselves that keep their mouths shut when detectives ask questions about a homicide, too afraid to come forward, as families weep. Or those who just have hatred of the police instilled in them. Those are the ones that whip out their phones the moment there is a traffic stop or an arrest is made and post to social media. They edit out the parts that show the “why” of the situation and the “who” and “how” of a confrontation, which fuels unrest.

    Yet through all of this we still have officers willing to do their jobs. Willing to see the lifeless bodies of children, teens, adults, and the elderly in a city that doesn’t appreciate or support them. Eventually, these cops break. If they are not pushed completely over the edge, they retire. But there are others who, sadly, commit suicide.

    Do we need a change? Yes, we do.

  7. Gary is spot on at so many levels. But unfortunately he is not woke, politically correct, or a hack insider. Hence, he will never be in a position to do anything about the violence problems the city faces.

  8. Chief McCarthy is correct, spot on.
    The problem though, if you have a mayor that actually wants to do the work, is the Aldermen. Most are more worried about the social issues like wokeness and diversity etc for re-election than to support the police and a rational sane policy. Recall when Jodie Weiss tried to crack down on gangs and the Aldermen got upset and wanted his resignation? The Aldermen went so far as to host at WGN gangsters that were “disrespected” by the police.

  9. How entertainingly simple! Thank you Chief McCarthy for these words. To keep it that simple is putting politics aside and keep them OUT of policing policies that are set by police personnel and governed by the same. KEEP POLITICS OUT OF POLICING…..PERIOD!
    Yes, that is the answer, but Chicago’s “leaders” will never allow that, ergo, criminals have no strings nor respect for either the police nor politicians.
    God bless you Chief McCarthy and John Kass, get well and listen to the doc!

  10. Many good points…but Chicago is doomed if it continues to be ruled by committee: Preckwinkle, Fox, Lightfoot, Dart, Evans and Pritzker. We have a one-party State that shuts down those who dare to disagree or fail to worship at their altar. They put out daily Democratic slogans and call everything they don’t like “racist,” “homophobic,” and “extreme Maga conservativism.” And as seen elsewhere they have the continued support of the lackeys in the newsrooms/media who glowingly report on every ribbon cut, every order signed and every photo op. Hopefully more voters will have seen the light with the increase in shootings, murders, carjackings, thieving, drugs, illegals seeking handouts and dead bodies to make a better choice in this year’s election. How many more chances will the city get before it crumbles like Detroit did?

    1. Sadly this situation seems never ending. Law abiding taxpayers like us are the losers. EVERYTHING IS UPSIDE DOWN :(. Media, education, big government are not on our side. Voting these days is a joke. I have no answers just sadness that I obeyed all the rules and now those who don’t are applauded and cheered. I WILL NEVER GO INTO CHICAGO AGAIN even though I worked on the Westside for 45 years as a bedside nurse. Racism was NEVER AN ISSUE. Now everything is racist. TERRIBLY SAD SITUATION.

  11. Thank you Gaary for that excellent synopsis on Chicago’s demise into oblivion! If mayor beetlejuice is re-elected – throw in the towel – because the city is toast. We need a major shift in the mentality and focus of the mayor, and hopefully saner voters will prevail. We can only hope….and pray…

  12. I remember Garry at the National Summit. On the street in direct command of his troops. Standing beside him was a CPD Captain who has a law degree. Smart policing with the whole world watching. Police are derided. Political expediency to get re-elected. All us normal folks if we have the ability is to move away. Out of the cesspool. Out of our beloved city. Garry was very good but the politicians hamstrung him. Brown is Lori’s fool. We need a new mayor and not one who is beholden to the “Woke culture”.

  13. “They also should have the opportunity to advance their career based upon their work ethic and talent. “ …

    …certainly a problem within the police department, but a problem EVERYWHERE !! Promote those based on race, orientation, social status all that diversity crap instead of talent, experience, ability or knowledge. It’s a sad state of affairs we are in right now.

    The problem is that the police department being handcuffed at any end, lawlessness rules. Sad to say if I were a cop, I’d find a Dunkin’ Donuts and say the hell with it…and there would be those who would agree and follow suit. Fortunately, I am not and there are some who still give a damn enough and do what little they’re allowed to or can do.

  14. So glad this man is now my village’s Police Chief. He talks sense and acts professionally – which is why he’s no longer Chicago Police Superintendent. “Chicago ain’t ready for reform”.

  15. “Certainly, if an officer violates the law, they should be prosecuted. If they violate policy, they should be disciplined…” You buried this statement, but this is why we are here, distrust in law enforcement has led to gross overcorrecting from politicians, which as you point out, isn’t helping. The city isn’t ‘lawless and dying’, save that for Fox News. What the city IS post covid is half of its former vibrancy, half (some days less) of the workforce, half as many people eating, drinking and partying after work. It may tilt back slightly but it will never be full capacity again-so how do we keep that criminal element (opportunists) from filling the void??

  16. To Riga-Tony.
    Not all of Chicago is “lawless and dying”. I ventured into Wrigleyville last weekend to lunch with some old friends. It was vibrant, full of street traffic (not many people over 60 though) and the cafes and restaurants were full. No evidence of crime there. Downtown is another story. Many commenters have said they would NOT go to the city again. I am sure they mean the downtown, the area that was trashed by rioters, abandoned by business owners with streets prowled by young thugs looking for victims. That, the heart of the city, will continue in a death spiral without new city leadership. Lightfoot has been a disaster.

  17. 25 year veteran of West Suburban Village next to Chicago 15th and 25th Districts. Excellent article and rest assured this mentality has spread outside Chicago too. Want change Mr & Mrs majority then pay attention and vote accordingly. If you sit on the sidelines you get what you get.

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