A bullet casing lies in the street Tuesday at a shooting scene near 71st Street and King Drive in Chicago. City politicians find it easier to fight for gun control than to fight the gangs. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune/January 29, 2013)
The Gang Crisis: Emanuel Owns It Now
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel a few years ago.
“And what I mean by that,” he said, “it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”
Things you could not do before?
Or things you would not do before?
Like hiring enough police to fight the gangs that are shooting and killing on the South and West sides?
Police have been retiring in droves, but because of a city treasury spent down to nothing over the years, City Hall hasn’t been able to hire young cops in droves.
And after more than 500 homicides last year, and 42 last month (the most since 2002), Chicago and its mayor face a reckoning:
The cops are overworked and undermanned. The street gangs are fractured into smaller cliques that are even more deadly. And the rest of us are hearing almost every day about another homicide victim or two or three added to the death toll.
“Forty-two deaths in January is crazy,” said a West Side cop with more than 20 years on the job who works in a high-crime district. “This is supposed to be the slow time. If we’ve got 42 deaths in January, what’s it going to be in July?”
The death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton is Emanuel’s crisis now.
She was a high school band majorette and good student who participated in an anti-gang video at school. Recently she was in Washington to perform during inauguration festivities for President Barack Obama. The White House has expressed its condolences over her death.
Chicago politicians — including Emanuel and Obama — find it easier to fight for gun control than to fight the gangs.
Pendleton’s killing forced Emanuel to make a public announcement Thursday that he’s shifting 200 desk-bound cops onto the street, a plan dismissed as thin public relations by the police union.
“It isn’t working, and it’s failed miserably,” Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden said of overall police manpower during a midmorning radio interview with me on WLS-AM 890.
“And a (murder) clearance rate of some 30 percent is absurd because you can’t put in new detectives, because you don’t have the patrolmen to replace them,” Camden said. “And we keep playing smoke-and-mirrors games.”
City Hall begs to differ.
“We disagree,” an administration official told me. “The mayor’s been absolutely clear and firm that the Police Department will remain at full strength and that we will hire as many officers as we need to maintain that strength.”
Full strength is a relative term, always shifting, but at his news conference, the mayor portrayed the personnel change as proactive, rather than as reactive.
“Before a flame becomes a fire, to put it out,” Emanuel said. “And to actually, basically saturate and exhaust an area and have the resources to do that.”
That saturation strategy sounds remarkably like one he rejected, the one developed under a previous administration t flood problem neighborhoods with aggressive cops and pressure the gangs.