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Are More Police Officers The Solution To Chicago's Gun Violence?

By Ted Cox | August 4, 2016 7:53am | Updated on August 5, 2016 10:53am
 With many calling for something to be done to address the city's spike in gun violence, the question remains, what can Chicago really do on its own?
With many calling for something to be done to address the city's spike in gun violence, the question remains, what can Chicago really do on its own?
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

CITY HALL — With many calling for something — anything — to be done to address the city's spike in gun violence, the question remains, what can Chicago really do on its own?

In the face of a spike in Chicago shootings and murders, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has resisted calls to hire more officers. He has instead pushed for stronger gun laws, even though Chicago has little say over the Illinois General Assembly or Congress, which would have to pass new state or federal legislation.

Gun confiscations are up this year in the city, as are murders, with both on a pace to far exceed recent years.

Ted Cox talks about gun confiscations and CPD overtime policies.

Yet, the city recovered almost twice as many guns in the mid-2000s, when murders hovered under 500 a year, well below the pace the city is on this year.

 Ald. Ricardo Munoz, chairman of a new Police Accountability Subcommittee, has previously argued for hiring more officers.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz, chairman of a new Police Accountability Subcommittee, has previously argued for hiring more officers.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

In fact, research from the University of Chicago Crime Lab has suggested there is little if any direct correlation between gun laws, gun confiscations and murders.

A 2006 article entitled "Aiming for Evidence-Based Gun Policy," from U. of C. Crime Lab researchers Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig, called both those approaches into question, suggesting that gun laws have little direct influence on the homicide rate.

"The most important federal firearm law since 1968, the Brady Act, provided a natural experiment that leant itself to evaluation using a strong design," they wrote, adding that "the effect of the Brady Act on gun homicide is not discernibly different [in a statistical sense] from zero."

That hasn't kept the city from refining its approach to lobby for stronger gun laws. Emanuel and former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy previously pushed for anyone possessing an illegal gun to face a mandatory one-year prison sentence, as in New York, where murders have dropped, while Chicago's have remained high and even spiked.

But that push ran into opposition over the possibility that some senior citizen, armed with a gun for self-protection, might face a one-year jail term.

Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson have shifted that approach to push for longer sentences for repeat offenders — targeting those who've already been convicted of using a gun in a crime.

Even so, the General Assembly hasn't acted on the proposal.

Targeting the segment of the population known to carry and use guns has shown promise in enforcement on the street, in a campaign developed by McCarthy and carried on by Johnson, and it's backed up by research as well.

The theory is that a very small segment of the population is responsible for the vast majority of shootings and murders. Those people, McCarthy liked to say, were most likely to commit a murder or be murder victims. It was therefore possible to create a matrix of interconnected individuals who should be monitored or curtailed.

McCarthy began a data-based campaign targeting those most likely to commit or fall victim to gun crime, and Johnson has stepped that up, for instance arresting dozens of such targeted individuals over the July 4 weekend in a bid to rein in gun violence that was widely seen as effective.

That's supported by research.

"Targeted police patrols against illegal gun-carrying appear more promising than extending prison sentences for those who use or carry guns illegally," Cook and Ludwig wrote.

The question there, however, is who's carrying out that concentrated enforcement — police, obviously — and if you're going to turn up the pressure in such a way, does that also require more police officers to do it?

That's an approach advocated by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th). After Lopez was a witness to an attack with an assault rifle earlier this month in Back of the Yards, he called for "a serious, concentrated task force of law enforcement to help stem this violence and stop the flow of weapons into our neighborhoods."

Lopez has even suggested the city get help from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

"Targeted enforcement and increased, visible presence does have an impact on crime, and more importantly, reducing the opportunities for crime in our communities," he said last week. "As a city, we have not kept up with attrition within the ranks, causing more [crime] over time and an exhausted police force."

Dean Angelo Sr., president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, agreed, comparing the concept to enforcement of the Gang Congregation Ordinance the Police Department engaged in during the 1990s, when murders spiked above 900. But that requires more officers now, he said, "because guys are burned-out, fried at both ends; they're burning a candle at both ends — both ends and in the middle."

Police are burned out because the Police Department has chosen to put more officers on the street by asking current officers to work overtime — rather than hiring more officers — a philosophy backed by the Emanuel administration, Angelo said. 

"So, now they're working with one day off a week, and they are exhausted," he said. "They are mentally, physically, emotionally drained."

Angelo maintained the Police Department is down 1,500 officers since Richard M. Daley was mayor.

"We used to have a [budget] line item of 13,500" sworn police officers, he said. "Right now, the last numbers I saw, from the superintendent to the last recruit, as of the 15th, we were at 12,000.

"Although some people might report we're at full complement, we're down from where we were, just by the elimination of positions," Angelo added.

Emanuel said he's put more officers on the street, transferring them from desk duty and giving those jobs to civilians

That debate likely will be revived this month as police reforms are being considered by the City Council.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), recently named chairman of a new Police Accountability Subcommittee in the Council, has pushed for more officers during budget hearings, and he wasn't backing off that position last week.

Munoz called the continued push for stronger gun laws "reasonable," but quickly added, "more importantly, we need to have enough officers," especially with the police union urging officers to turn down overtime during Labor Day Weekend.

"We can't keep depending on overtime," Munoz said. "Although I disagree with the FOP's call for officers not to serve overtime, because that puts us in a disadvantage. However, we also need to man up, increase the number of boots on the ground in order to be able to prevent crime."

Munoz plans to hold his subcommittee meetings at City Hall this month, while other aldermen hold a series of five public hearings citywide, starting with one Thursday night.

They'll be gathering public comments, while Munoz will focus on expert testimony: "basically a baseline knowledge of what the best practices have been in other parts of the country, on how to deal with these reforms and accountability measures we're considering — before any legislation gets put forward," he said.

Look for that to include calls for more officers as one of the few concrete steps the city can take, even as the Emanuel administration remains adamant in opposition to hiring more police and instead relying on overtime — an issue that is coming to a head with the Fraternal Order of Police.

Angelo said he intends to have a presence at those hearings.

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