SOUTH LOOP — Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy disagreed with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's take that crime is spiking this year as police have become afraid to act aggressively for fear of being caught on cameras.
McCarthy rebuffed the position by Emanuel — as well as FBI Director James Comey — who have both made comments recently blaming an increase in crime on police becoming more timid for fear of public scrutiny.
"If you think officers are staying in their cars, how do you explain increases in arrests and gun confiscations?" McCarthy said Monday, during a four-day conference being held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police at McCormick Place. "My officers are out there working, putting their lives on the line every day. I do not believe they're taking a knee."
Still, McCarthy said Emanuel's remarks at a recent conference in Washington, D.C. — that officers had become "fetal" — was "not the right phrase."
Still, he didn't take it as a sign of disapproval from the mayor's office even as black aldermen have called for McCarthy's firing.
The conference included 25 leaders of nine major law enforcement groups, who used the opportunity to shine a spotlight on illegal gun possession and propose a solution.
Though the group acknowledged that there is no cure-all antidote for shooting spikes in cities like Chicago — where shootings this year have hit 2,450, police said Monday, far outpacing the number shot in the previous two years — it singled out nationwide mandatory background checks as a sensible and broadly-popular solution.
"This is a crisis that's affecting urban, suburban and rural communities all across the country, from coast to coast," said Jim Johnson, the Baltimore County chief of police and chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. "More than 90 percent of Americans and law enforcement officials support mandatory background checks, including gun owners. The will of the American public and public safety officials should be heard."
Under today's federal law, only customers at licensed gun dealerships are subject to background checks. Once private sales are taken into account, Johnson said, the current system is "like letting 40 percent of people walk past TSA checkpoints at the airport."
Chicago, McCarthy noted, leads the country in the recovery of illegal guns, with CPD officers confiscating three times as many guns as in Los Angeles, and seven times as many as in New York.
"We're not bragging about that," McCarthy added. "It's a failure, and people want to know what we're doing about it."
With an overwhelming proportion of Chicago's guns pouring in from other states, the officials said, all 50 states need a uniform system of regulation if any city wants to stem the tide of illegal gun sales.
Repeating a figure he touted at a news conference last month, McCarthy said Chicago police have taken 25 percent more illegal guns off the street this year than in 2014. But without tougher regulations on purchases, he added, communities will see little benefit.
"By taking away those guns without having tougher penalties, we're doing exactly what gun manufacturers want," McCarthy said. "We're just getting people to give them more money, because that demand continues to exist."
Comparing the fight against gun lobbyists to the decades-long public health crusade against tobacco companies, McCarthy insisted that action in Washington is possible, no matter how hopeless the current political climate may look.
"Democracy is supposed to be a self-cleaning oven," McCarthy said. "We just need to keep up this groundswell so that constituents can convince Congress that this is the right thing to do."
The Washington Post reported that Emanuel said "we have allowed our Police Department to get fetal, and it is having a direct consequence. They have pulled back from the ability to interdict … they don't want to be a news story themselves, they don't want their career ended early, and it's having an impact," Emanuel said, according to the Post.
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