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[Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green]

Law Enforcement

As Chicago’s Bloody 2016 Concludes, Task Force Proposes Steps for Curbing Shootings

“These are things that don’t cost money, and that just make sense,” Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin said.

Chicago-area law enforcement agencies should immediately adopt a range of proven, low-cost measures — including flooding high-crime areas with more cops, sharing gun trace information, and rebuilding tattered relationships with communities — in order to confront a surge in violent crime that “has taken a horrific toll on young, innocent lives,” a local task force has concluded.

The Cook County Gun Violence Task Force, which includes representatives from government and policing agencies across the region, also recommended rebooting a community-based program that uses residents of dangerous neighborhoods to mediate conflicts.

“It is imperative that local stakeholders begin to recognize and acknowledge that there are ways to combat community violence and save lives that have little or nothing to do with either regulating firearms and enacting expensive, grand solutions — both of which have proven to be equally unrealistic and unsuccessful endeavors in spite of an escalating number of incidents of violence across the country,” the report says.

As of Wednesday, Chicago had recorded 701 homicides for the year, a nearly 56 percent jump from the 450 recorded in 2015. Shootings are also up by about 50 percent, according to local press reports.

While the recommendations made in the document are not binding, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin said it would be hard to understand why agencies would not implement them.

“These are things that don’t cost money, and that just make sense,” Boykin said.  

The 52-page report is a product of 10 months of research and hearings. It is more of a policy guide than a critique of existing practices. It cites extensive academic research to make the case for a more concerted and coordinated law enforcement approach to tackling the area’s homicide epidemic. One of the topline recommendations is for area police agencies to adopt “hotspot policing,” a technique where officers saturate the neighborhoods shown to be most dangerous.

When Boston implemented hotspot policing in the 1990’s, crime was reduced by 79 percent, the report notes. Since then, the strategy has been implemented successfully in many major cities across the country, including Jersey City, and Minneapolis.

The Chicago police department has also experimented with versions of hotspot policing, including walking patrols in high-crime neighborhoods.

Until recently, Boykin told The Trace, city police made clear that they prefer that sheriff’s deputies patrol outside the city. But, he said, the time has come for officers across jurisdictions, including state police and federal law enforcement, to coordinate to target the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

“In the past, there’s been a frosty relationship, but these entities really need to start working together,” Boykin said. “The city is not an island. The city is part of Cook County.”

A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Boykin also said that at present, agencies are rarely sharing trace data they receive from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms about the histories of guns recovered in crimes. Police in one department may know that a specific gun was used in a robbery, while police in another agency may know that it was used in a homicide — but the two departments may never communicate this vital information, he said.

The report also requests suburban police agencies to utilize advanced investigation techniques, such as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, a national database of spent shell casings from crime guns.

Another recommendation is to revive Cure Violence, a program that hires members of the most dangerous communities to mediate conflicts. The program was active in 14 neighborhoods until 2015, but funding cuts have eliminated all but one outpost.

Charles Ransford, a policy director at Cure Violence, said he believes cutting his program accelerated the spike in violence. It would cost about $18 million to restore and expand it throughout the city’s most violent neighborhoods, he said. A spokesman for Boykin said no one has yet discussed who might pick up the tab.

“A little investment would make a huge impact,” Ransford said.