Chicago’s new police superintendent Larry Snelling has pledged to prioritize his officers’ mental health as part of a bid to revamp the struggling department, which was down over 1,740 officers in 2022 from its peak four years earlier.
On August 13, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson announced Snelling as the city’s top cop. Snelling is a nearly 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and currently serves as its chief of counterterrorism.
“In order for our officers to love someone else, we have to love them,” Snelling said during a recent press conference. “We need to make sure that we have the best trained and most well-taken-care-of officers when we put them out in the community because when these officers feel good about themselves, they feel good about their department. When they feel good about the job that they’re doing, they’ll feel good and great with the community.”
Some of the ways Snelling is looking to bring officers back to the department is by improving officer wellness and training, overhauling promotions and restoring trust between the police and the community, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Cops are not robots made on a conveyor belt — they’re human beings,” Snelling said. “I talk to them, and I hear it all the time. Sometimes, they just want to spend time with their family members. We have to evaluate and re-evaluate our officers’ mental health. We have to be cognizant of what we’re doing to these officers when we’re canceling days off. We have to give them notice when that happens.”
Snelling’s words come as a sign of hope for the city and the department, which, like many police agencies around the country, has wrestled with depleted staffing numbers and officers leaving in droves. Since March 2020, the Chicago Police Department has suffered a net loss of 1,408 officers — about 11% — according to Office of Inspector General data. During those years, the department’s force of frontline “blue shirt” cops shrunk from 9,779 to 8,455.
Chicago has also been dealing with increasing violent crime. On August 14, the department released statistics showing that there were 19 reported shooting incidents and 28 reported shooting victims, fatal and nonfatal, over the previous weekend. In addition, overall major crime rates are up 35% so far in 2023 over the previous year, according to the most recent department crime statistics.
“The things that are said to these officers now, the disrespect — that’s huge for our officers,” Snelling said. “How do they get over that? We have to make sure that we’re providing them with everything that we can provide them so that they’re well and they can get over the hump of not being respected most times or seeing death. Our officers are resilient, but we have to give them more to continue to be resilient.”
In order to invoke real change and make a lasting impact in the community, Snelling says that everyone in the city has to work together.
“We cannot do this alone as a police department,” Snelling said. “Every member of this city has to be a stakeholder, and I am willing to sit down and have a conversation with any and everybody within this city to work together to resolve some of the issues that we have and make this city as safe as we can possibly make it.”
Snelling also vowed to improve officer training, stating that training should not simply be a checking-boxes exercise.
“My focus is to make sure these officers get the best possible training they can have so that they can police constitutionally,” he said. “They’ll be tested. They’ll be pushed to their limits. We can’t just simply believe that the consent decree — without true enforcement of it — is going to change the department. In order to change this department and produce the best possible officers that we can put out there, our training has to be robust, and it has to work for our officers.”