Chicago police solve only one in every 20 shootings
After 74 people were shot over one of the city’s most violent weekends in more than two years, Chicago police said they would flood the city’s crime-wracked neighborhoods with hundreds more cops while acknowledging that no arrests for those shootings had been made as of late Tuesday.
A day earlier, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson had pleaded with the community to come forward with information to hold people accountable for the carnage, including 12 fatalities.
“You all know who these individuals are,” a frustrated Johnson said at one point.
“If you know who did this, be a neighbor, speak up,” Emanuel added.
But the Police Department’s struggle to solve violent crime or earn the cooperation of residents is not a new problem — nor one that will be solved quickly, said experts, cops and law enforcement leaders alike on Tuesday.
The fear and discomfort in reporting on neighbors is real and so, too, is the distrust in a department that is in an epic struggle to repair frayed and broken relationships with minority communities, they said.
“I think it is disheartening that we are at Tuesday after the weekend we had without anyone being charged,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx told the Tribune in a phone interview. “The feeling that people can do this with impunity makes the work that much more difficult.”
On Tuesday, the Police Department refused to release current data on how many homicides and shootings it solves — known as clearance rates — telling the Tribune to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
But past data collected by the Tribune show the department’s clearance rate for homicides has been declining in recent years, hitting about 17 percent last year. That number doesn’t represent convictions or even arrests for homicides but rather cases in which the department identifies a suspect, regardless of whether that person is ever charged.
Even fewer of Chicago’s hundreds of shootings each year are solved. A University of Chicago Crime Lab analysis of Chicago police records found that the department cleared just 5 percent of shootings in 2016, a year in which violence hit records unseen in two decades.
In a year when shootings have fallen 17 percent citywide and homicides by even more, the violence between 3 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday was a jolt. Many of the shootings took place in three West Side police districts and one on the South Side, officials said.
According to Tribune data, it marked the worst violence of any single weekend in Chicago since at least before 2016. And Sunday saw more victims shot in a single day since at least September 2011, when the Tribune began tracking every shooting in Chicago. For the entire day, 47 people were shot, including a stunning 40 during a seven-hour period early Sunday.
Johnson, who said the shootings were mostly rooted in gang conflicts, on Tuesday said the department has immediately deployed an additional 430 officers to the neighborhoods most wracked by the shooting. Those numbers will grow to an additional 600 officers on the weekend.
“We’ll be there as long as it takes,” Johnson said. “We have a responsibility to keep these folks safe.”
He said officers working the extra hours would have their afternoon shifts extended into the overnight hours, when there’s a higher likelihood for violence to erupt.
At the news conference Monday, Johnson acknowledged that the department has trust issues to overcome in neighborhoods hit hardest by violence.
A report by the U.S. Department of Justice early last year found that police officers had routinely engaged in widespread civil-rights violations, particularly in the African-American community, and acknowledged that resentment had built up for decades.
The city has reached a proposed consent decree intended to reform the Police Department, but the effort to restore relations with the community is just beginning.
Detective division sources interviewed Tuesday by the Tribune said they absolutely need community help to solve shootings and homicides. They were also sensitive to fears that residents have of cooperating with police.
“It’s understandable,” said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he didn’t have the department’s permission to speak. “It’s a dangerous thing to be a murder witness in the neighborhood where the murders are taking place.”
Asiaha Butler, an Englewood community leader who has worked closely with the local police commander, said trusting the police does not come as easily as it sounds. She noted the difference between officers assigned to the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program, known as CAPS, and regular street cops.
“Like I have always said, I have a great relationship with our CAPS department, but our CAPS department are not the ones who are riding down and patrolling our streets,” she said. “That still seems to be a struggle, and we hope it gets better.”
Experts who have studied clearance rates said Tuesday that gang-related violence can be the hardest type of crime to solve. Detectives’ caseloads and the quality of their supervision are key factors, they said, but so too is community trust. Police departments with high clearance rates on homicide cases invest a lot of time to establish that trust.
“They talk about a long time of building relationships with the community, (of) explaining that the crime is taken seriously,” said Charles Wellford, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland. “It’s not something that is done overnight. It is more like a constant presence. … It’s not just attending a meeting. It’s working together, sharing information.”
Foxx said the struggle to clear cases should be a reminder to everyone working in the criminal justice system that neighborhoods affected by violence need such constant attention from policy makers and law enforcement — including her own prosecutors.
“The attention they receive outside of tragedies has to be equal to when something like this happens,” Foxx said. “We can’t just show up when we think you are going to be a witness to a crime. We have to be at the block parties when there is not violence happening. That is something we build over time, and there has to be demonstrable movement toward that middle (ground).”
The effort to find those responsible for the weekend’s shootings is just underway. But experts agree that the initial 48 to 72 hours — particularly in homicide investigations — is critical. Witness recollection is best then. Suspects may still in be in the area. And any physical evidence is fresh.
That no one was in custody for any of the dozen homicides reflected Chicago’s struggles, Wellford said. “It certainly wouldn’t occur in high-performing” police departments, he said.
But the experts also emphasized that a caseload of three to six homicides at a time allows detectives time to track leads and witnesses. Detective division sources interviewed by the Tribune spoke of tracking as many as 10 cases at a time.
It’s been nearly two years to the day since 32-year-old Demarco Kennedy was killed in the dining room of his Far South Side apartment by an apparent stray bullet that traveled through a window. So far, no arrests have been made.
On Tuesday, his sister-in-law, Vannessa Davis, said in a phone interview that at least one of Kennedy’s relatives still keeps in touch with detectives. Solving the case would require a witness to come forward or other evidence to come to light, she said.
“We as a family have made peace,” Davis said, but every anniversary of Kennedy’s death “reopens old wounds.”
Overworked detectives must constantly shift their attention elsewhere, she said.
“People, they’re under the no-snitching act,” Davis said. “Whoever did this is pretending to go on with their life.”
Chicago Tribune’s David Heinzmann contributed.
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