Amid torrent of gun violence, Chicago mayor proposes 3-part plan

In a highly anticipated speech, Rahm Emanuel calls for community, mentorship and increased police presence. Crisis communicators weigh in on forward strides, as well as missteps.

Chicago’s reputation as one of the nation’s most dangerous cities is becoming tough to shake.

Enforcement, investment and protection are the keys to rebuilding the violence-stricken city, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a public safety address Thursday night.

Gun violence—primarily in two of the city’s most impoverished sections—is at the root of soaring murder rates, and it has put pressure on police to engage more with residents, to do more community patrolling and to be more involved in west and south side neighborhoods.

Though Emanuel has faced recent criticism about how he will rebuild trust between police and community leaders, he addressed the situation with a 45-minute speech at Malcom X College near the city’s West Side.

Here’s video of the speech in its entirety:

The broader topic of crisis comms

Emanuel’s goal is not unlike those of many PR pros working to stem an escalating crisis.

Beforehand, he said his public safety address would provide a “comprehensive” solution.

WBEZ Chicago reports Emanuel said he even delayed the speech—it had been scheduled for earlier in the week—to “get it right.”

His solution? An investment of more than $35 million in mentoring programs for Chicago youth. On Sept. 21, the city’s police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, announced that the department would get 970 new sworn positions, including patrol officers, detectives, sergeants and others.

A primary takeaway from Emanuel’s speech was accountability.

The core of his message:

As big a problem as gun violence is for Chicago, it is not beyond our ability to solve. Ending this string of tragedies is our top priority as a city. We are infusing our police department with the manpower, technology and training to meet this challenge head-on. Our kids are yearning for that guidance. Our kids are yearning for that foundation. They need a moral compass to help point them in the right direction to make the right choices. So they can look back on the past with pride rather than shame.

On its own, a simple speech cannot solve Chicago’s gun violence crisis. Can it, however, inspire city leaders, community builders and residents to work together to find lasting solutions?

The response

Chicago Sun Times columnist Mary Mitchell called Emanuel’s message “a tough but necessary balancing act.”

Although many residents have criticized city officials for their lack of community engagement in violent neighborhoods, Mitchell says the primary takeaway was about bridging that gap.

She says:

It fell on him to give us all hope—citizens and police alike.

He did so by promising to marshal the city’s resources to fight this unrelenting violence on all fronts: In our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our homes, while also urging citizens to show more support for the Chicago Police Department.

From the mayor’s speech:

Our officers need your support. They need your reassurance, and they need to know they have to earn the public’s trust.

On trust, here’s what Emanuel said about rebuilding the CPD during a follow-up interview with WBEZ’s Jen White:

Police are clearly going through some fundamental changes, while we’re also asking them to approach their job in very perilous situations, at the very time in which they aren’t sure they have the public’s support. On the other hand, the public wants to see the police do their job but have to do it differently.

Accountability, Mitchell says, must start with the mayor’s own actions. She points out—as many did online—that protesters were not allowed inside the venue:

If the intent was to bring all Chicagoans together, it didn’t help that these advocates were kept outside of Malcolm X College, where the mayor spoke Thursday evening.

Checking off the crisis boxes

A public speech is a crucial part of many crisis communications plans. What happens next, however, is just an important.

As the initial response begins to settle, crisis manager Erik Bernstein suggests the mayor’s team analyze every aspect of it.

He says:

The question must be asked, “What did we learn from this?”

A formal analysis of what was done right, what was done wrong, what could be done better next time and how to improve various elements of crisis preparedness is another must-do activity.

As not all of the city’s stakeholders attended Thursday’s speech, online responses should be taken into consideration when drafting a follow-up plan.

Edelman’s Siena Dixon advises doing that by adopting a “social listening” strategy. Here are a few key components:

  • Provide an understanding of the public’s perception and reactions in real time.
  • Feed [decisions] into the long-term response plan.
  • Help shape proactive messaging.
  • Identify cordial influencers who can help share your message.

The best thing city officials can do now is stick to their plan.

Crisis management is a living, breathing document that we’re constantly working on,” Peter LaMotte says via Cision. “Reassess and reevaluate at every opportunity to add new steps to the plan.”

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