If Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas ever get together in Chicago to discuss how to fix the city's rampant problem with gun violence, they should expand the conversation beyond how to keep guns out of criminals' hands.
The entire criminal justice system needs an overhaul, and it starts with how the city uses it resources.
"Gun control doesn’t work. Look at Chicago. Disarming law-abiding citizens isn’t the answer. Stopping violent criminals – prosecuting & getting them off the street – BEFORE they commit more violent crimes is the most effective way to reduce murder rates," Cruz tweeted after renewed calls for gun control measures in the wake of two mass shootings in Texas.
Lightfoot fired back: "60% of illegal firearms recovered in Chicago come from outside IL—mostly from states dominated by coward Republicans like you who refuse to enact commonsense gun legislation," she responded. "Keep our name out of your mouth."
Lightfoot later invited Cruz to visit Chicago "to walk the streets on the West Side and the South Side with me, if he really wants to do something to be helpful.”
Cruz has yet to take her up on the offer.
And while there needs to be ongoing state and national conversations about our gun laws, Cruz also has a point. Chicago has a poor record of keeping violent criminal offenders off the street.
A 2018 investigation into 2014 gun-related crimes in the city by The Center Square found that the vast majority of gun-related homicides that year went unsolved. The Center Square picked 2014 to analyze because we wanted to track outcomes in the criminal justice system, which can move at a glacial pace.
Overall, there were 410 homicides committed in Chicago in 2014, according to Chicago Police Department statistics – 372 of them by firearms and a total of 2,599 shootings in the city. The 410 homicides in Chicago in 2014 represents the fewest number of homicides in the city in the past decade.
Of the 372 homicides committed that year by firearms, 47 resulted in a criminal conviction, a total clearance rate of 12.6 percent.
Reasonable people can agree that delivering justice in just over one of every 10 gun-related murders isn't good enough.
There are reasons for low-clearances rates. Most shootings are related to street gang violence, authorities say, and witnesses are reluctant to come forward. The Chicago Tribune reported in December that total clearance rates for nonfatal shootings in the city fell from 23 percent to 15 percent between 2011 and 2017. For homicides, the total clearance rate fell from 49 percent to 35 percent, but that's based on arrests, not convictions. The national average for homicide clearances is closer to 60 percent.
A year after a particularly violent August 2018 weekend led to 75 people being shot and 13 killed in the city, the Tribune reported last month that the vast majority had not been solved. As of the Aug. 10, 2019 story, five people had been charged with crimes in connection to the 75 shootings.
“We’re not happy. We’re not pleased,” Deputy Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan told the Tribune. “It’s a great number of people. It’s too many shooting incidents with an extremely low clearance rate.”
The Chicago Police Department is staffing up and improving its technology to help, but more resources are likely needed to make significant progress. How can a city with as much debt as Chicago afford to pour even more taxpayer dollars into the effort?
There are no easy answers for a violence problem that's decades in the making, particularly in such a financially strapped city as Chicago. But every little bit helps.
Prioritizing city duties and resources is one place to start.
The state of Illinois took a big step during its spring legislative session to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, effective Jan. 1. Yet Mayor Lightfoot wants to prevent sales of marijuana in the city's flourishing loop area?
How many hours will be spent by CPD officers policing downtown to prevent the sale of marijuana, legal everywhere else, from tourists and businessmen and women? Even if it's not many, city police shouldn't have to spend any time worrying about black market marijuana dealers selling the drug in the Loop.
And how about the insane amount of time spent on parking enforcement in the city.
ProPublica reported last year that the city of Chicago issues more than 3 million tickets a year for things like parking, vehicle compliance and traffic camera violations. I realize the enforcement is as much or more about revenue for the city as it is about enforcing the law. But can we get our priorities straight? Not to mention the ProPublica story noted that ticket debt impacts minority communities the most, leading to thousands of bankruptcy filings each year.
For all of the city's problems, drastically reducing gun violence, and increasing arrest and conviction rates in gun-related crimes, would be at the top of my list.