A startling rise in homicides to start the year has public officials searching for answers.
Is the spike tied to bad morale in the Police Department following the Laquan McDonald shooting and the U.S. Justice Department's investigation? Today, Chicago's interim Police Superintendent sought to explain the spike in crime and how he plans to address it.
The Police Department counts 95 gun homicides in the first two months of the year. That’s nearly twice the total this time last year, and even higher than the year before that. Escalante points to a rise in conflicts on social media escalating into gun violence, and says a third of the murders have happened indoors this year – almost double the typical number.
He does not dispute the notion that morale may have played a role in police officers effectively doing their job in the wake of Laquan Mcdonald and the civil rights investigation.
“In the immediate aftermath of the video, as a department, we struggled to get our officers to understand that they had our support,” Escalante said. “I’m really encouraged by what we’ve seen recently.”
On Friday, Escalante and Chief of Patrol, Eddie Johnson, sent a video message to the police force trying to dispel concerns they had about the Justice Department investigation and about a recent deal struck with the ACLU to limit investigatory street stops.
“They had concerns about not wanting to be the next viral video," Escalante said. "We dispelled rumors regarding the department of justice and the ACLU. So everything we can do to let them know we support them, that they’re doing the right thing, we’re trying to do that."
Watch: Escalante's six-minute video message.
Escalante says there are trends in the last few weeks that point to a possible turnaround in the high crime numbers to start the year. The amount of gun recoveries by police was way down to start the year, but he says that’s picked up in recent weeks. Ditto for the number of violent crime arrests.
“What I believe is our officers are working hard,” Escalante said. “When you compare the last 28 days of this year to 2015, we have big increases in violent crime arrests, robbery arrests, DUI arrests. Our gun arrests are up by 33 percent in the last 28 days over this period last year. Over the last two weeks alone, we’ve see a 25 percent increase in investigative stops.”
The gun recoveries typically happen during these investigatory street stops, sometimes referred to as “stop and frisk.” They were down 80 percent to start the year because of a deal struck with the ACLU that caused confusion among the rank and file: Cops had been used to filling out small contact cards during these stops, but after the deal, they were required to fill out a more thorough two-page sheet.
Escalante struck another deal with the ACLU starting today that reduces that paperwork by a quarter.
Some police veterans and retired officers believe that higher crime can be traced back to decisions made years ago by former Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Retired lieutenant Bob Angone believes some of the higher crime numbers are a result of the move to disband specialized mobile strike forces that went around the city dealing specifically with gangs.
McCarthy instead wanted those resources redeployed to neighborhood beats – and Escalante says he’ll likely intends to keep it that way.
“Those same teams, we dispersed them accordingly and gave each of the three area patrol deputy chiefs those resourses,” Escalante said. “So those deputy patrol chiefs have a say in where they need those resources instead of it coming from a centralized command center. So there’s no intention of bringing back something like the mobile strike force.”
Escalante says he has applied to become the permanent police superintendent. Three finalists were to be announced by the police board this week but that decision has since been put off.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz
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