Chicago shooting spike forces police to re-evaluate
Chicago police interim Superintendent John Escalante (Photo: Charles Rex, AP)
Chicago police interim Superintendent John Escalante (Photo: Charles Rex, AP)

Last updated 11:19 p.m. EST Jan. 28, 2016
By Jenna Adamson and Eileen Rivers
While the Chicago Police Department is expanding current programs such as its partnership with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to reduce the 200% spike in shootings reported this year, a better fix may be increasing efforts to end gun trafficking and improving clearance rates — the rate at which criminals are arrested. Those are suggestions from Chicago professor Arthur Lurigio, who has spent a lifetime studying, among other things, crime-reporting behavior and community crime prevention.

“Shootings are contagious and lead to a cycle of retaliation that is difficult to suppress,” Lurigio said.

“Illegal guns pour into the city through mostly out-of-state gun traffickers,” he said, “and are circulated within a social network of gang members and others who ascribe to a culture of violence.”

That social network of violence is something the Chicago police is trying to target.

The increase in shootings comes directly from gang activity that’s sparked by disputes frequently started or escalated on social media, according to Anthony Guglielmi of the Chicago Police Department. 

To counter the spike, the department is changing the way it deploys its gang enforcement units, allowing them to work out of three separate patrol areas across the city instead of just one centralized location — an effort that should increase response times to reported activity, Guglielmi said. The department is also working with the sheriff’s office to target certain areas of the city, and partnering with social and community services in those areas to reach out to folks who may have had run-ins with gang members, or connections to people who are on police radar, to offer them ways out of the gang lifestyle through job assistance and counseling.

Arrest rates for some gang-related activity have gone up this year, according to the department. There has been a 29% increase in murder arrests, a 12% increase in robbery arrests and a 9% increase in criminal sexual assault arrests.

But getting a handle on shootings has been more difficult.

CBS News reported on Jan. 14 that 110 people had been shot on the streets of Chicago since Jan. 1. That’s almost a 200% increase over the 37 reported during the first two weeks of January in 2015. The news comes shortly after the department reported its end-of-year crime statistics, which disclosed increases in homicides and non-fatal shootings. 

“The problem is that the gang structures have changed dramatically,” Lurigio, a professor at Loyola University of Chicago, said. Hierarchical umbrella organizations once governed Chicago gangs, but when Chicago razed its public housing, gang members were scattered to new territories. The consequent splintering of gangs led to the destruction of the old hierarchy, which exercised some measure of control over violence. While gun violence once served the purposes of the gang’s mainly drug-related ‘entrepreneurism,’ now young gang members use gun violence as a way to increase personal prestige and to resolve conflicts.

“Violence is a public health crisis as much as a criminal justice crisis,” Lurigio said. In the pockets of Chicago where gun violence rages, neighborhoods Lurigio calls “areas of despair,” violence is “multigenerational” because poverty is multigenerational.

Some of the kids who are committing violent acts now have been a direct or indirect victim of violence, so they carry guns to protect themselves. Lurigio said young men he’d interviewed for his research said they didn’t expect to live beyond age 25. “Young men who are despairing and hopeless are those who are most likely to pick up a gun, most likely to devalue life.”

In addition to increased patrols and offering extra services in certain communities, the department has been forced to re-think its general approach to policing, which has come under scrutiny after recently released video of the shooting death of unarmed black teen Laquan McDonald at the hands of white police officer Jason Van Dyke caused a national uproar. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder.

The department promises increased police accountability — training in de-escalation, an expansion in use of Tasers and body cameras and a mandatory 30-day administrative leave period for officers involved in a shooting. The department is also working on new policies that would increase diversity within its ranks.