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Here's What Causes Violence And How To Stop It: Former Top Federal Lawyer

By Heather Cherone | March 14, 2017 5:11am | Updated on March 15, 2017 11:31am
"Gun violence has overwhelmed" Chicago, U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon said.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CHICAGO — Zachary Fardon may no longer be Chicago's top federal law enforcement officer, but on his way out the door Monday he left Chicago officials with a detailed look at the violence that he said left many in his office with a "sense of frustration and despair."

After stepping down at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Fardon also offered Chicago leaders a five-point plan to stop the violence.

In his five-page letter, Fardon acknowledged that he had failed in his attempt to use the full power of his office during his 3½-year tenure to stanch the blood filling Chicago's streets. Instead, shootings and murders rose to levels in 2016 not seen since Chicago's poorest communities were ravaged by crack cocaine and violence in the 1990s.

"At no moment during those 3½ years did the gun violence abate," Fardon wrote. "Every month, every year, innocents died, kids died."

But Fardon wrote that "changed, or began to change," on Oct. 20, 2014, when a police officer fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

The other seminal moment of his tenure was the "landmark agreement" reached in January 2016 between the Chicago Police Department and the ACLU. It was designed to reduce the number of unwarranted and unlawful stops and searches by Chicago Police officers, Fardon wrote.

That agreement — loathed by the vast majority of officers — required officers to complete a two-page form every time they stop someone.

That caused officers' morale to plummet, Fardon wrote.

"Many became scared and demoralized," Fardon wrote. "So cops stopped making stops. And kids started shooting more — because they could, and because the rule of law, law enforcement, had been delegitimized. And that created an atmosphere of chaos."

Saying he is now "unshackled by the diplomatic constraints of being the U.S. Attorney," Fardon wrote that the goal of his letter was to speak the truth about Chicago's gun and gang violence.

"The long term [problem] is that Chicago has an entrenched gang problem in a limited number of neighborhoods on the south and west sides," Fardon wrote. "For decades, those neighborhoods have been neglected. The reasons for that historic run of neglect are rooted in ugly truths about power, politics, race and racism that are a tragic part of our local and national history and heritage."

But in the short term, many of the individual acts of violence in those neighborhoods are sparked by social media, Fardon wrote.

"One taunt through Instagram leads to a shooting, which leads to bragging on Snapchat or Facebook, which leads to a retaliation shooting, and then the cycle repeats," Fardon wrote. "The virus spreads."

The dashcam video of McDonald's death wasn't released until November 2015, but when it was — combined with officers' concerns about the ACLU agreement, the Department of Justice's civil rights investigation and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's dismissal of Supt. Garry McCarthy — it set "the city on fire," Fardon wrote.

"Those things exploded a powder keg that didn't change fundamentally the landscape of gun violence or law enforcement, but they poured gasoline on the tragic aspects of those realities and further polarized our officers and our community," Fardon wrote.

The combat those problems, Fardon offered his successor — and Chicago officials — a five-point plan to "get us to a better place."

"Is not exhaustive or magical; it is an honest short list based on my experience over the past years," Fardon wrote.

Reach A Consent Decree

In order to reform the Chicago Police Department a legally binding agreement — known as a consent decree — is necessary to ensure that reforms are implemented under the authority of a federal judge, Fardon wrote.

"You can't stop our brand of violence without a top-flight police department," Fardon wrote. "And you can't have a top-flight police department on the cheap. For decades, CPD has been run on the cheap."

But Sessions has said he doesn't think much of the investigation Fardon helped oversee — and is unlikely to negotiate a consent decree with city officials.

Fardon said that approach would be a mistake, and defended the 161-page report from critics who have denounced it as a "scathing indictment" of the Chicago Police Department. Instead, Fardon wrote that it is a "a roadmap to addressing the systemic deficiencies in training, supervision and accountability" in the police department.

The nature of politics means without the watchful eye of a federal judge, the deep problems afflicting the police department won't be addressed, Fardon wrote.

"This city's history is replete with examples of saying the right thing, in some cases starting the right thing, but then losing focus, particularly as the media and public attention pivot toward whatever is the latest crisis," Fardon wrote. "A consent decree with an independent federal monitor is the only way that [reform] will happen."

Consolidate federal law enforcement efforts in Chicago and expand the U.S. Attorney's Office

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago needs another 15-20 lawyers immediately, Fardon said.

"If you want more federal gang and gun prosecutions, we need more full-time, permanent federal prosecutors in Chicago" Fardon said. "That's simple math."

But President Donald Trump has ordered a hiring freeze on federal employees, making such an expansion unlikely.

Fardon also recommeneds combining the Chicago efforts of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms into one agency or special task force.

"It seems to me this crisis creates the right opportunity to reinvent that wheel, even if it's just a Chicago-specific pilot — bring those federal agencies together in a way that will create unified purpose, greater efficiency and greater impact for our afflicted neighborhoods," Fardon wrote. "We need to flood those neighborhoods with local and federal law enforcement officers."

But deploying the national guard on Chicago's streets would be counterproductive, Fardon wrote.

"If we resort to wrongheaded measures, we might set ourselves back years, even decades in the long term fight," Fardon wrote.

Stop Gang Members From Posting On Social Media

Send in the tech geeks, Fardon recommended.

"If kids have convictions or overt gang affiliations, find a way to curb their social media," Fardon wrote. "I recognize that First Amendment issues come into play, but let's test those limits. Lives are at stake."

Create Youth Centers

Once someone joins a gang — sometimes as young as 10 — "their fate is sealed," Fardon wrote.

"The vast majority of those kids will do the right thing if we help them find and figure out what that right thing looks like," Fardon said. "So let's find those kids, and let's intervene, in a positive way, in their lives."

That means "combining our social services resources to maximize impact in these neighborhoods," by creating "brick and mortar" places for those kids to go and get help, Fardon wrote. No longer should non-profit groups have to compete against each other for the "peanuts" offered by the state and federal governments, Fardon added.

Fix The Bail Bond System In Cook County

Fardon endorsed an initiative from State's Attorney Kim Foxx to give inmates who are too poor to post bond a reprieve.

At the same time, Fardon said those charged with acts of violence who have prior gun and violence convictions should not be eligible for release.

"Lives are being lost, every month, because of that bail system," Fardon wrote. "It's fixable, now."

Until his replacement is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois will be run by Fardon's No. 2, Joel Levin.

Fardon's parting words were for his former colleagues:

"You are everything that is right and good about public service. You are our hope. Carry on."

Fmr USA Fardon Open Ltr 3.13.17 by Heather Cherone on Scribd