Chicago Shootings

Exclusive: Chicago's Former Top Aide On Public Safety Speaks Out

Mayor Lightfoot’s former top aide on public safety is speaking out on Chicago’s complicated and divisive issues surrounding crime and how to address it

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Susan Lee, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's former top advisor on public safety, penned an op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times last week, highlighting the issues that have divided the city as crime rates climb.

Ald. Matt O’Shea of the 19th Ward coauthored the column.

“Either you’re pro-police…or you’re for community violence intervention [but] it is not an either/or,” said Lee. “This is a yes/and situation.”

The column was critical of the Chicago Police Department's lack of manpower, demoralization of officers, media coverage that portrayed officers as “enemies” and asked the city to think hard about how it plans to invest federal dollars.

On Friday, CPD Supt. David Brown declined to comment on police recruitment.

Lee admits she prefers to stay away from media interviews, but granted NBC 5 an exclusive interview after the op-ed was released.

Handpicked by Lightfoot, she only served as Chicago’s Deputy Mayor of Public Safety for a year before resigning in 2020.

During that time, a contentious relationship arose between Lee and aldermen over public safety efforts that included more community-based interventions and the consent decree.

“We obviously need more effective policing that is community based, developing trust,” said Lee. “That was one of the reasons why I came to Chicago. It lacked a community-based violence intervention infrastructure which many other cities began a long time ago,” said Lee. “Los Angeles, New York… having worked in many of those places, I felt I could bring some expertise.”

In response to the op-ed, several aldermen pushed back on Lee’s solutions she penned in the article, saying both Lee and O’Shea failed to address root causes of violence, such as systemic racism and economic disinvestment.

“Absolutely, I agree with the aldermen that we have to address the root causes of disinvestment, systemic racism, lack of hope, really,” said Lee. “It’s about trauma recovery, it’s about educational opportunity, it’s about family support services.”

When asked about her view on city leadership on the issue, Lee explained how hard the pandemic year has been.

“Having been inside, I just know how hard it was last year,” said Lee. “Leadership needs to come together to find a solution.”

Lee got emotional over the constant news stories of children being shot in Chicago, saying it’s still difficult to go to sleep at night when she sees these stories.

“Some folks are saying, 'well, numbers are still up, we still have more shootings, it’s not working,'” said Lee. “That, I think, is the greatest danger.”

Now, Lee leads policy and strategy for Arne Duncan’s privately-funded community violence intervention group, Chicago CRED.

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