On June 9, The Western Journal spoke with Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Police Association and a law enforcement trainer. A retired 29-year police veteran of a large metropolitan police department in Chicago’s suburbs, Smith is quite familiar with the crime problem plaguing the Windy City.
Smith diagnosed that crime problem, explaining to The Western Journal how she believes things have gotten so out of hand in Chicago. What follows is a transcript of the interview edited for clarity:
Michael Austin: Last weekend there [were] very high levels of violence going on. Fifty-five shootings, at least six deaths, and when it comes to —
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith: Michael, that’s a high level of violence for everyone except those of us in Chicago. I think our record was 80, 82.
Austin: So we looked at [Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s] response, and the mayor didn’t necessarily address the weekend whatsoever. And in the press releases that her office has put out and in her recent social media posts, the rhetoric has all been about police accountability and police reform when the violence is just — over the past year, 2020 was a huge increase from 2019, and it looks like 2021 is going to be a huge increase from 2020 in terms of violent crime, in terms of shootings.
And the mayor seems to be more focused on reforming the police and police accountability, which, not necessarily saying that those things are things that we shouldn’t be talking about or pursuing, but in light of all the violence that’s going on, that seems like a strange focus to have. So I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.
Smith: So there’s a lot to unpack there. So, we’ve got, in Chicago — and I’m Illinois born and raised, lived in the city of Chicago or the metro area for most of my adult life until a few years ago. My youngest of my four kids still lives there.
“We had 1,500 people shot this year, just under 300 killed, several children.”
And so we had 1,500 people shot this year, just under 300 killed, several children. So this is nothing new, the violence in Chicago.
We had this kind of violence in Chicago all through the Obama administration. We saw a little bit of change during the Trump administration because the Trump administration — the [Department of Justice] — sent more federal law enforcement. There’s a pretty big federal law enforcement presence in the city of Chicago, they work pretty well with CPD. There are serious task forces and things. And there’s very strict gun laws in the city of Chicago.
“Focusing on crime is not going to get Lori Lightfoot re-elected.”
The big issue we have now with the Lightfoot administration in Chicago is the mayor doesn’t pay a lot of attention to violence. She is extremely progressive and — especially since last year, since the George Floyd incident — she is very much about trying to hamstring the police department as opposed to allowing them to try to stop the violence.
If there was any other city that had the level of violence that Chicago has on a weekly basis, it would be national news 24/7. That’s one of the frustrations of people who live there and people who care about Chicago is no one else really seems to care. You know, I’m so glad you guys are focusing on this, but focusing on crime is not going to get Lori Lightfoot re-elected. So I would guess that’s why she’s not focusing on that.
Austin: What kind of changes do you think would actually help the department actually try to curb some of this violence? If Lightfoot were to be just kind of the perfect mayor for you guys, what sorts of policies do you think she would chase after?
“It’s not necessarily about how many arrests the Chicago Police Department is making, it’s about how those cases are being prosecuted.”
Smith: Well, here’s the problem, and this is what a lot of people don’t understand. The Chicago Police Department can go arrest everybody, everybody on the planet Earth who does anything wrong. The problem is the Chicago Police Department does not prosecute those crimes. And there’s one of your big problems in the city of Chicago.
For example, we just had a woman who shot a Chicago police officer in the chest, attempted murder with a firearm. She pled that down to aggravated battery. So it’s a felony, but it’s not a high-level felony. She’s going to get ten years in prison. In our system in Illinois, she’ll be out in four. That’s for attempted murder of a police officer who she shot in the chest. The only reason he’s alive is because he had on a ballistic vest. That is a very typical scenario in Cook County, Illinois.
It’s not necessarily about how many arrests the Chicago Police Department is making, it’s about how those cases are being prosecuted. We have a [George Soros]-funded progressive prosecutor in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office — that is Kim Foxx — and she is one of the many progressive prosecutors that have been elected in the last eight to ten years in this country. George Gascon in LA County is another, we have another one in Travis County, Texas. Of course, you have in New York.
Our court system, of course, is a year behind now because of COVID. It was behind to begin with, the county jail is overcrowded. So most of these violent gun offenders, they get arrested, they go before a judge and they’re let out with either an ankle bracelet until trial or until their case is adjudicated, or they’re let out on what we call in Illinois a recognizance bond — a signature — or both.
“It is going to be very much like New York, where everybody is just going to be out on bail.”
There is a huge police reform in Illinois kind of making its way through, and part of that is no cash bail. It is going to be very much like New York, where everybody is just going to be out on bail. So these violent offenders, even though we have all these gun laws in Illinois and even more gun laws in the city of Chicago, these violent offenders are never punished for violating those laws. So the Chicago Police Department can make all the arrests they want, but if the cases aren’t prosecuted properly and adjudicated properly, that’s a big problem.
“In Chicago, politics are king.”
I went to the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Academy in 1981. So I’ve been in Chicago law enforcement virtually my entire adult life. We had terrible gang violence in the ’80s and on into the ’90s and on into the 2000s, and this has been a Chicago problem. It ebbs and flows.
You also have horrible street gang issues, you have horrible, cyclical corruption issues. And policing in Chicago has been politicized far longer than it has in other urban areas. Sure, you go back to Rodney King and LAPD and all that, and that comes and goes. Chicago has always been terribly politicized because in Chicago, politics are king. That goes back to the Daleys and Joe Kennedy and, I mean, you can go back to before I was born. And so that’s sort of uniquely Chicago.
So we have Mayor Lightfoot — very, very, extremely progressive. You have the George Floyd situation. Well, let’s go before George Floyd, we had Laquan McDonald, you probably read about that, right?
Austin: Yep, yes.
“It all comes down to politics and power.”
Smith: The young man who was shot in the street and the Chicago police officers went and some of them monkeyed with the videotape, and the mayor at that time, Rahm Emanuel, hid the facts of the Laquan McDonald case — including the videotape — from the public until he got re-elected. Now, again, why wasn’t that a bigger deal in the media? Why wasn’t that the headline 24/7? Can you imagine if a Republican mayor had done that? We’d still be talking about it. But Rahm Emanuel was part of the Obama administration. Barack Obama is the undisputed king of Chicago even though I don’t think the man has been there in five or six years.
And so that kind of got pushed out. This outrage about police policy and corruption and this and that, that’s also very politicized. So when a Democrat does something wrong, it’s not such a huge deal. When the mayor is corrupt, not such a big deal. I know I’m not giving you any really good answers here because it’s such a horrible, tangled mess. And it all comes down to politics and power.
“Chicago’s a very broken place and Lori Lightfoot helped break it.”
The city of Chicago has been changed forever now in the last year since George Floyd and then a couple of the other more notorious police shootings. Some of the most famous retail centers in Chicago are no longer there because they were looted and burned and all that.
So there’s been a whole lot of damage now, and it’s my belief that Mayor Lightfoot has had a focus on the Chicago Police Department because otherwise she’s going to be forced to focus on so many of these other issues. Chicago’s a very broken place and Lori Lightfoot helped break it. But it’s more popular to go after the police than it is to look at some of the real issues that are happening.
Chicago is my home, and it’s sad. And the Chicago police are — I was there last year, they were the last organization I trained before COVID grounded us — and I just can’t tell you, it just really gets me because they are some of the best people and the best police officers in this country. And if you could just see them like I did in my classrooms and stuff like that, the diversity and yet the cohesiveness is extraordinary. And they really give a d*** about what’s happening in their city.
“You will see prayer services for the police officers in their neighborhood.”
So do most of the people in Chicago. And in the worst neighborhoods where most of the violence occurs, most of the people in those terrible neighborhoods, they only have the Chicago Police Department to help protect them. If you’re a law-abiding, poor citizen of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department is all you got.
And so you see this in Chicago, in the poorest of churches and neighborhoods and things, you will see prayer services for the police officers in their neighborhood every other day and pro-police marches and things like that every other day and police officers being invited in for lunch or invited to sit on the stoop and have a glass of iced tea and things, things that you would never see in the media.
Austin: Alright, yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Smith: Thank you. It is like a therapy session. Yeah, I appreciate it.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.