Chicago police activity regressed amid June’s steep rise in gun violence; union blames low morale
As the number of murders in Chicago soared in June, there was a huge slowdown of police activity that the police union blames on rock-bottom morale and distrust of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
In the first 28 days in June, the number of murders was up 83% compared with numbers from the same period in 2019, Chicago Police Department statistics show.
And the number of arrests was down 55%, street stops fell by 74% and traffic stops dropped by 86%.
Police Supt. David Brown said Monday that police activity slowed because fewer people have been on the streets “because of COVID.”
But John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Tuesday it’s more than that.
“I’m not telling them not to do police work,” Catanzara said of his members. “But I hope they just slow down and decide ‘Is this necessary?’ before they do it.”
The city saw a major decline in police activity after the 2015 release of the video showing Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer who ended up going to prison for second-degree murder. Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicago cops were “going fetal” at the time.
Catanzara acknowledged the coronavirus is a big factor but said cops have returned to a defensive crouch because they don’t think they have Lightfoot’s support. And he said the antipolice movement that has spread nationwide since George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis cop is “worse than Laquan McDonald.”
Catanzara pointed to Lightfoot’s comments at a news conference condemning officers accused of sleeping on a couch, popping popcorn and drinking coffee in U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s campaign office while, she said, looters plundered the same strip mall.
“Same thing she said to Trump: ‘Begins with an F and ends with a U.’ That’s what she said to the police with that whole press conference,” said Catanzara, who doesn’t think those officers did anything wrong.
“It’s going to cause officers to pause and say: ‘I want to go home today safe. I want to make sure I keep my job. And I want to make sure I don’t go to jail.’ It’s not going to be ‘react first’ unless it’s a life-and-death situation. They’re going to stop and think first before they act.”
Police activity slowed significantly in March after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus, the Sun-Times found. From mid-March to mid-April, the number of murders fell 13%, arrests plummeted 70%, street stops dropped 64% and traffic stops fell 84% compared with last year.
But the police slowdown continued as the city was gradually reopening in June amid a staggering rise in violence.
In the Harrison District on the West Side, for instance, arrests were down 55% and murders up 71% compared with 2019.
Citywide, the number killed or wounded in shootings in June rose 110% — to 541 victims — compared with June 2019.
Meanwhile, there were about 3,330 arrests, a 55% decline, and about 3,800 people were stopped on the street, a 74% drop.
Gun arrests, though, were up 45%.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said the drop in police activity is the result of Pritzker’s order and the city’s gradual reopening.
“Businesses have not opened up to full capacity,” he said. “A lot more folks are not getting out.”
Taliaferro pointed to 22 gun arrests and 66 gun recoveries last weekend as evidence officers are doing their jobs aggressively and intelligently.
“Our police officers don’t want to be the next headline,” he said. “But I don’t think they’re being ‘fetal’ and not performing their jobs as police officers.”
“There is going to be some hesitancy as far as engagement. I would not expect anything different from any other officer in the country. We are looking at changing the scope of policing as we currently know it.”
Brown, the former police chief in Dallas, started April 15 and already has seen his goal of a sub-300 murder year evaporate. As of June 28, Chicago had seen 322 killings this year against 242 in the same period last year. The murder total for all of 2019 was 492.
Among the latest killings, 3-year-old Mekhi James was shot to death June 20 as he rode in the back seat of a car. He was one of more than 100 people shot in Chicago that weekend.
On Monday, Brown said: “The shock waves throughout this department, throughout the country, were significant as it relates to, ‘What is COVID? Will I take this back to my family?’ And so there was a drop-off in police interactions with people, No. 1.”
He also noted that more people have been released on bail during the pandemic and that criminal trials are on hold.
“Everything else came to a stop,” he said. “And these murdering, evil bastards have taken advantage of these situations.”
“IT’S GOING TO CAUSE OFFICERS TO PAUSE AND SAY: ‘I WANT TO GO HOME TODAY SAFE. I WANT TO MAKE SURE I KEEP MY JOB. AND I WANT TO MAKE SURE I DON’T GO TO JAIL.’ IT’S NOT GOING TO BE ‘REACT FIRST’ UNLESS IT’S A LIFE-AND-DEATH SITUATION. THEY’RE GOING TO STOP AND THINK FIRST BEFORE THEY ACT.”
JOHN CATANZARA, president of the Fraternal Order of Police