Superintendent Garry McCarthy discusses the Back of the Yards shooting at Cornell Park on September 19th at press conference at Police headquarter September 20, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak / Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:35AM
When 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy, are shot in a Southwest Side park, Chicago’s unwanted yet persistent reputation as America’s crime capital is bound to get worse.
Chicago does have an alarming crime rate, especially compared with New York and Los Angeles. But that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that the Chicago Police have put effective anti-crime strategies in place, which will continue to bring down the crime rate over time. We need to stay the course.
Across the city Thursday night and early Friday morning, 23 people were shot and three people were killed by gunfire. Thirteen of those people were shot in the brazen attack at Cornell Square Park, where, law enforcement sources said, some of the victims were Gangster Disciples and the one or more shooters were believed to be from the Black P Stone Nation gang. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said a military grade assault-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine was used in the attack.
Bloodshed to that degree is horrifying. But the police under McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have made considerable progress in reducing crime rates, including gun crime. Murders are down 21 percent from last year, shootings are down 23 percent and overall crime is down 15 percent. A number of policing strategies, focused on cracking down on gangs and anticipating where the violence is likely to flare up next, are working. Expensive as such efforts are — the police have tapped out their overtime budget for this year — the money must be found to keep them going.
One police tactic is their “wraparound strategy,” which started early in 2012. Under the program, police conduct undercover drug stings to remove dealers from a targeted block and keep them away by maintaining a regular presence, sometimes stationing an officer in squad car for months. Along with that, city officials take legal action against businesses and homeowners whose properties harbor drug dealers and invite residents to meet with police, form block clubs and call police when they see crimes.
Police also have started a pilot program of “custom notifications,” in which cops knock on doors of people considered most likely to become shooters or victims and warn them not to even consider committing violent crimes. It’s similar to the philosophy of CeaseFire, which has been forced to cut back its efforts now that a $1 million city grant has run out.
In what might be considered an unspoken endorsement of these strategies, New York — which long had relied more on stopping and frisking its citizens for guns — now is moving toward policies more like Chicago’s.
Last week, appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” Emanuel was asked, right out of the box, about Chicago’s crime problem. The mayor correctly pointed out that crime rates are going in the right direction: down. When Letterman asked why Chicago’s strict gun-control measures aren’t stifling gun crime, Emanuel pointed at Indiana, which doesn’t require background checks for gun sales and is the leading source of out-of-state guns used in Cook County crimes.
The mayor is understandably frustrated by the Indiana gun pipeline. It is very much for real. On Friday, for example, a federal jury convicted David “Big Dave” Lewisbey of South Holland, who prosecutors said “flooded the streets of Chicago” with guns he bought at Indiana gun shows. In his defense, Lewisbey had claimed he was a drug dealer, not a gun runner.
On Friday, McCarthy renewed his call for meaningful gun-control measures. That’s an uphill battle at a time when supporters of laws to limit gun violence lost key votes when the U.S. Senate killed bills to strengthen gun laws and the Illinois Legislature enacted a permissive concealed-carry law. But it’s a battle that can’t be abandoned. Chicago needs safer streets.