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How CPD's Data Guy Plans To Get Past 'Horrible Rhetoric,' Make Real Change

By Ariel Cheung | January 13, 2017 9:34am
 Marc Buslik is the new head of the Town Hall District after his work as liaison to the U.S. Justice Department during its investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
Marc Buslik is the new head of the Town Hall District after his work as liaison to the U.S. Justice Department during its investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

LAKEVIEW — Marc Buslik is a numbers man.

Already, he has cleared his schedule to devote the upcoming weekend to reading the results of the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of the Chicago Police Department, which are set to be released Friday morning.

After all, he supplied the data they're based on.

Buslik, the new commander of the Town Hall District, comes to the district after assisting the Justice Department investigation launched in December 2015, after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer.

And he's not expecting any good news. At least not at first.

"We're going to have to get past this initial, 'Oh, we're terrible,'" Buslik said Thursday. "Once we get past the horrible rhetoric they're going to launch at us about how terrible we are and how racist and misogynist and homophobic and anti-Semitic, it's really an opportunity for us."

He expects the results to be "very similar" to those addressing the Baltimore Police Department, where justice investigators found a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory practices over the course of years.

"Knowing the kinds of data that the Justice Department has asked for in the last year, I want to see what they do with that data," Buslik said. "Is it in context? I want to make sure the numbers accurately represent what's going on."

Rather than focusing on reform, which Buslik likens to repairing a flat tire, he said he hopes the federal investigation will provide an opportunity for the Police Department to transform and grow.

"Reform means changing your flat," he said. "Transformation means learning not to drive through construction zones with nails — not just to fix things that we would all agree are broken, but look at where do we want to be?"

On his desk at the Town Hall District headquarters, 850 W. Addison St., spreadsheets and figures are shuffled about next to a jar of cheese puffs, a tabletop Zen garden and a can of peach pear La Croix.

He's been the district's top cop for seven weeks now, overseeing police in Lakeview and parts of Uptown, Lincoln Square, North Center and Lincoln Park.

He found out he was moving to the North Side district as his role in the federal investigation came to an end. Before that, he was the Shakespeare District commander in Logan Square and Wicker Park, where he ran the city's body camera pilot program last year.

RELATED: Chicago Police Tap Shakespeare District Commander To Assist Federal Probe

Buslik, a 37-year Police Department veteran, will bring more to Town Hall than the body cameras, which will be rolling out districtwide this year.

Since assuming his new role, he's laid out a series of priorities crafted from his discussions with neighbors, police officers and Town Hall leadership.

He has tweaked the community policing program, having declared the Police Department program known as CAPS as "dead."

Buslik said he wants to bring foot patrols back to the district — a long-sought goal of many neighborhood groups — with two already implemented on Wilson Avenue in Uptown and the Southport corridor in Lakeview.

"We're isolated when we're in a car, and police officers don't want to be isolated," Buslik said. "We want to break down this barrier of this metal and glass cage we're surrounded by and build up some positive support."

Next, he hopes to add another foot patrol on Belmont Avenue, extending to Halsted Street and Sheffield Avenue, Buslik said.

"I think it's an important crime prevention tool, and frankly, it's a good way for us to achieve a better relationship with the community," he said of the foot patrols.

While the Town Hall Police District enjoys comparative safety, stopping the rise in shootings in Uptown is a priority for Buslik this year. He also said he wants to clamp down on the robberies and burglaries that plagued Lakeview last year and begin meeting with applicants for liquor licenses.

"I want people living in this district to feel safe. I want them to be safe," Buslik said. "I'm looking forward to working with everybody to accomplish that kind of singular goal of making people happy to live here."

His efforts will start with a thorough analysis of the district's crime data, using it to better place officers in hot spots.

Buslik's expertise when it comes to numbers-crunching goes back to the late 1980s, when he worked on a federally funded crime analysis project. He followed it with work in the Police Department's information technology unit.

He also spent a year teaching at Northwestern University and frequently is called upon as a lecturer. One of his favorite lessons is showing students two "100 percent accurate representations" of police work: "Adam-12" and "Reno 911."

"They say, 'How can these both be accurate? One is almost documentarylike and the other is absurd,'" Buslik said. "And that's what police work is: It spans the spectrum from the ridiculous to the sublime to the absurd to the most tragic you can experience."

In almost four decades with the Police Department, Buslik has worn many hats, from working in the internal affairs division to the now-defunct Chicago Housing Authority police. Most of his work has been on the West Side, in Belmont Cragin, Hermosa and Austin.

To him, nothing matters more for police than accountability.

"I just think that if we're doing the right things the right way, then we're giving taxpayers what they're paying for," Buslik said. "It's become a bit more difficult lately, but it's not impossible."

He understands officers who "don't want to be the next viral video," but wants those under his command to not shy away from scrutiny that can help lessen mistrust in police.

"I don't mind the extra accountability, but along with that comes a responsibility on the part of the community for understanding and empathy," he said. "I don't think police ask for more than that, to understand what we're doing here."