PORTAGE PARK — Officers in the Jefferson Park Police District wrote about 26 percent more traffic tickets through April 2 this year than they did during the same period in 2016, according to Cmdr. Bill Looney.
The surge is part of an effort to beef up police presence in a district that saw an increase in gun crimes in the opening quarter of 2017, Looney said.
Eight people were shot — one fatally — in the district through March 31 this year. Shootings wounded four people in the first three months of 2016, according to DNAinfo data. Meanwhile, Looney said officers confiscated 14 guns between Jan. 1 and April 2, compared with just three guns through April 2 of last year.
"We're getting a lot more activity out there, so now it's just a matter of making sure we're stopping the right people," Looney said. "There has to be a reason for giving someone a citation, so hopefully stopping more people in cars means we're getting more criminals."
Officers have made slightly more arrests this year, from 556 between Jan. 1 and April 2 last year to 564 during the same period this year, Looney said. They've impounded 150 cars during that period this year, compared with 93 in 2016.
The cranked-up enforcement policy might be yielding results: Even as gun crimes have jumped, the district saw about an 11 percent drop in overall reported crime during the first three months of this year compared to 2016, according to city data.
That includes modest year-over-year dips in violent offenses like assaults and robberies, as well as in property crimes like burglaries and motor vehicle thefts.
But those numbers are little cause for celebration, Looney said, especially with all four categories having registered sharp increases between 2015 and 2016.
Source: Chicago Data Portal
Crime rates "are looking pretty much flat right now, so I can't say we're making all that much progress," Looney said. "But there's definitely been more traffic enforcement, so hopefully that's been stabilizing things a bit."
Police in the area got a modest boost at the end of last year, when Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson followed through on a promise to send 36 more officers to the district, bringing its total roster to 230.
After the total force dipped below 200 bodies last summer, a three alderman demanded reinforcements for the city's largest district, which covers 36 square miles stretching from the Six Corners shopping district to O'Hare Airport.
The district's most dramatic shift this year might be its recorded number of drug crimes, which sank from 169 during the first three months of 2015 to 107 in the same period last year, with just 40 drug busts through March 31 of 2017.
Looney called that trend a natural consequence of the state's marijuana decriminalization law going into effect on Jan. 1, which takes jail time off the table for anyone caught carrying less than 10 grams of pot.
Officers have mixed feelings about the country's relaxation of drug enforcement, Looney said.
"Obviously, if it's a college kid or something, we're better off working on other stuff rather than putting him through the system," Looney said. "But if you're letting a guy go who's about to commit a burglary to support his habit, we'd want to lock him up. Enforcing narcotics could be a good tool for that kind of thing."