Sud­denly, it seems like 2016 all over again with Chicago vi­o­lence

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS -

We fear his­tory is re­peat­ing it­self.

In 2016, Chicago tal­lied nearly 800 homi­cides af­ter a wave of right­eous, but peace­ful, ou­trage gripped the city af­ter the re­lease of the video show­ing a since-im­pris­oned white po­lice of­fi­cer shoot­ing Black teenager Laquan McDon­ald 16 times. Po­lice work slowed — ar­rests in 2016 dropped 24% from the year be­fore — and the vi­o­lence grew out of con­trol.

But in the next three years, our city made progress: Po­lice re­ported 670 homi­cides in 2017, 579 in 2018 and 491 last year. At the end of 2019, rob­beries, bur­glar­ies and auto thefts reached their low­est levels in more than 20 years, and the num­ber of shoot­ings hit a four-year low.

“These gains are the re­sult of a data-in­formed, col­lab­o­ra­tive strat­egy with Chicago’s po­lice of­fi­cers, com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tions and street out­reach groups who have ded­i­cated their lives to keep­ing this city and its res­i­dents safe,” Mayor Lori Light­foot wrote on Jan. 1 about the crime-fight­ing strat­egy Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the po­lice depart­ment de­ployed — and she con­tin­ued — upon tak­ing of­fice in May 2019.

But sud­denly, it seems like 2016 all over again, even tak­ing into ac­count that COVID-19 has rad­i­cally changed the land­scape.

A wave of right­eous, though un­for­tu­nately not-al­ways-peace­ful, ou­trage over the Min­neapo­lis po­lice killing of Ge­orge Floyd has gripped our coun­try and city, again spark­ing slow­downs in po­lice work here.

Dur­ing the first 28 days in June — al­though the num­ber of gun ar­rests was up 45% — the to­tal num­ber of Chicago po­lice ar­rests was down 55%, street stops fell by 74% and traf­fic stops dropped by 86% com­pared with the same pe­riod the year be­fore, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by Frank Main and Fran Spiel­man in Wed­nes­day’s Sun-Times.

Con­cur­rently, and not sur­pris­ingly, vi­o­lent crime here is spik­ing. A 3-year-old was shot Tues­day in West En­gle­wood in what might have been re­tal­i­a­tion for a gan­gre­lated shoot­ing that wounded a teenager a half hour be­fore. At

last check, the 3-year-old was in crit­i­cal con­di­tion; the teen was do­ing OK.

Other chil­dren have died. This past week­end, 65 peo­ple were shot, 18 fa­tally, in­clud­ing a 1-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 17-year-old. Two week­ends ago, 104 peo­ple were shot, with 15 killed, in­clud­ing a 3-year-old and four teens. On May 31, 18 peo­ple were killed in a sin­gle Sun­day, the most vi­o­lent day in 60 years in Chicago.

On Tues­day, John Catan­zara, pres­i­dent of the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, said of his mem­bers, “I’m not telling them not to do po­lice work. But I hope they just slow down and de­cide ‘Is this nec­es­sary’ be­fore they do it.”

On Wed­nes­day, Light­foot said the slow­down wasn’t a CPD de­fen­sive crouch, but in­stead was the re­sult of a “month of civic up­ris­ing” in which po­lice were tied up “mak­ing sure that peo­ple could safely” ex­press their First Amend­ment rights to protest Floyd’s death.

Let’s be clear: A po­lice slow­down isn’t the only fac­tor that we see fu­el­ing the re­cent vi­o­lence. COVID-19 is lim­it­ing the way cops can in­ter­act with the pub­lic, not to men­tion the pres­sure the pan­demic has put on of­fi­cials at Cook County Jail to keep in­mates safe and the jail pop­u­la­tion as low as pos­si­ble. Newly hired Po­lice Supt. David Brown and Light­foot have been re­peat­edly say­ing the Cook County court sys­tem is go­ing soft on gun of­fend­ers, re­leas­ing them back on the streets too soon — a sub­ject we’ll ad­dress later on in this ed­i­to­rial.

In an ed­i­to­rial ear­lier this week, we praised Brown for ar­tic­u­lat­ing that polic­ing alone is not the so­lu­tion for Chicago’s vi­o­lence, that the is­sue goes back to long­stand­ing in­come in­equities on the South and West sides that will re­quire a broader, long-term strat­egy to fix.

But we can’t ig­nore this short­term re­al­ity: When po­lice of­fi­cers stand down and stay in their cars, crim­i­nals take ad­van­tage, and peo­ple — in­clud­ing chil­dren — die.

While we know we’re not smart enough to solve this prob­lem, we’ve been ob­serv­ing the po­lice depart­ment long enough to put the fol­low­ing ideas up for dis­cus­sion:

Ac­knowl­edge the po­lice morale prob­lem

Catan­zara blames Light­foot for low morale in the depart­ment. The mayor dis­misses Catan­zara’s com­ments as a tac­tic in po­lice union con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Then there’s this: Brown noted in his news con­fer­ence Mon­day that 16 cops have been shot at so far this year, with four be­ing hit. Cops also were rou­tinely pelted with bot­tles, fe­ces and other de­bris amid the protests and loot­ing in the wake of Floyd’s death. Hun­dreds of of­fi­cers


were in­jured.

Re­gard­less of who or what is to blame, there is lit­tle doubt CPD morale is at the same level — or worse — than in 2016. Light­foot needs to ac­cept there’s a morale prob­lem and work with Brown to fix it, or the slow­down will con­tinue.

Chicago’s po­lice depart­ment bud­get this year to­tals about $1.7 bil­lion, in­clud­ing com­pet­i­tive salaries and good ben­e­fits for of­fi­cers be­cause tax­pay­ers his­tor­i­cally rec­og­nize that polic­ing is a tough job.

We un­der­stand it’s even tougher to be a po­lice of­fi­cer right now. But would we tol­er­ate slow­downs from fire­fight­ers, san­i­ta­tion work­ers or other pub­lic ser­vants?

Stop pro­tect­ing bad cops

We’ve writ­ten be­fore that Chicago’s FOP con­tract and po­lice con­tracts across the coun­try pro­vide too many road­blocks for dis­ci­plin­ing rogue cops, erod­ing the pub­lic’s trust. It’s time that union lead­ers in Chicago work with Light­foot’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to get this right in ex­change for a fair con­tract, which the cops have been work­ing with­out since 2017.

Po­lice are con­stantly plead­ing for the pub­lic’s help in help­ing solve crimes. Ab­sent con­trac­tual re­forms, the trust gap only gets big­ger.

Get pol­icy mak­ers on same page

We also need ev­ery­one from the po­lice to elected of­fi­cials to get on the same page. Brown and Light­foot are at odds with Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle, State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Ti­mothy Evans over whether too many peo­ple ac­cused of dan­ger­ous crimes are be­ing put back on the street.

Preck­win­kle, Foxx and Evans say they are right­ing the in­jus­tice of peo­ple who are await­ing trial and pre­sumed in­no­cent be­ing held in Cook County Jail sim­ply be­cause they can’t af­ford to post bond. But Light­foot and Brown, just as Brown’s pre­de­ces­sors ar­gued, say peo­ple re­leased be­fore trial are com­mit­ting too many crimes. The data on both sides seems squishy, and the po­lice seem caught in the mid­dle.

The rift was high­lighted this week when Foxx con­firmed on Tues­day there would be a “pre­sump­tion of dis­missal” for some types of ar­rests, in­clud­ing ag­gra­vated bat­ter­ies to po­lice of­fi­cers, if the in­ci­dents weren’t caught on po­lice video. That de­ci­sion, which stunned some for­mer pros­e­cu­tors, will only widen the dis­trust be­tween the po­lice and Foxx.

Over­time is needed . . . for now

There’s been a lot of de­bate about whether to pay cops over­time. For the first time in his eight weeks on the job, we heard Brown talk in solid num­bers about de­ploy­ing ad­di­tional cops, say­ing 1,200 ex­tra of­fi­cers will be de­ployed over the Fourth of July week­end.

The depart­ment’s ac­tive-duty head­count is down slightly — from 13,306 of­fi­cers in June 2019 to 13,062 of­fi­cers this June, ac­cord­ing to a June 9 Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­sponse to the Sun-Times. More over­time is a nec­es­sary evil for now.

A new strat­egy on gang crimes?

A large chunk of the spike in killings is again be­ing driven by gang mem­bers. This cre­ates a co­nun­drum: How can we ex­pect street cops to ag­gres­sively ques­tion sus­pected gang mem­bers — which is a way they can get in­for­ma­tion to po­ten­tially stop shoot­ings be­fore­hand — with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing that by do­ing this, they run the risk of ha­rass­ing law-abid­ing cit­i­zens.

Brown this week noted “the com­plex­ity of Chicago’s vi­o­lence.”

Light­foot be­gan this year say­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive strat­egy with Chicago’s po­lice of­fi­cers, com­mu­ni­ty­based or­ga­ni­za­tions and street out­reach groups is a key part of the path for­ward.

It’s time to con­front the com­plex­i­ties in­volved, set aside the rhetoric and get back on that path.


Chicago po­lice in­ves­ti­gate the scene on June 18 where two peo­ple were shot, in­clud­ing a 5-year-old, in the 700 block of West 50th Place.


Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers in­spect a car with bul­let holes that was used to drive a woman and a 1-year-old to St. Bernard Hos­pi­tal af­ter a shoot­ing Satur­day in En­gle­wood. The child, Sin­cere Gas­ton (inset), was killed.

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