CHICAGO — Chicago’s reputation of murderous summers has defined the metropolis for quite some time. As the third largest city in the United States, Chicago holds the record for having the largest gang problem in the country, a problem Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says is at the center of the city’s violence issue year-round.
After serving as the top cop in Newark and New York and a combined 32 years of service in law enforcement, McCarthy said the actual level of gang violence in Chicago is something he’s never seen before. “These are hierarchical generational gangs that have been around for 60 years. These are entrenched gangs.”
According to the Chicago Crime Commission’s Gang Book, an organization headed by former Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, the city has between 68,000 and over 150,000 gang members in the metropolitan area among the estimated 70 to 100 gangs.
But while gangs are the biggest driver of Chicago’s violence problem, McCarthy says in the midst of him and his team implementing carefully thought-out sustainable solutions, the numbers are actually lopsided, presenting a “perception problem” to onlookers.
“We have an unacceptable level of gun violence in this city…The goal is zero murders, zero shootings,” McCarthy says. However, “while we have a double-digit reduction in the overall crime rate in the city, we’ve got an increase of about 90 shootings so far this year so that doesn’t match up.” McCarthy added, “ The number of people shot in the city has been going on for years and years, and years, and if you want to report the aggregate, whether or not you’re making progress on the issue, the perception gets worse.”
It will take time, he says, to reverse Chicago’s culture of entrenched crime.
The most recent statistics from the Chicago Police Department say that through June 10, overall crime in the city is down 10 percent from last year this time, with murder — of which 85 percent is typically shootings — up 36 percent from 2011. Overall shooting incidents are up 11 percent from 2011, but down six percent from the previous week. Week over week, overall crime is down 17 percent and murders declined by 47 percent.
“With an increase of 90 shootings, we have like 70 murders. That doesn’t match up, because usually, it’s about two out of 10 people that die when you have shootings. An increase in 90 shootings should result in about 18 more murders,” said McCarthy.
So McCarthy contends that although the city is getting so much attention for its unique violence problem, a “well-deserved perspective,” that “The real question is ‘Are we doing better, and is there incremental change happening?’ And the answer is ‘Yes.’”
Target the gangs, decrease the violence
To implement “incremental change,” McCarthy has come up with a plan to target gangs, and reduce shooting incidents, which will subsequently reduce overall crime, narcotics transactions and murders. Additionally, McCarthy says this strategy will require police and other city services to stay the course in the areas that murders happen, in order to rehabilitate the city of its crime problem.
“We realized that we didn’t have a comprehensive gang violence reduction strategy,” said McCarthy. While reiterating that gangs are the persistent problem that drives Chicago’s crime numbers, he said the proliferation of firearms is an ongoing issue, one that was illustrated in Chicago’s annual gun turn-in program over the weekend. More than 5500 guns were collected, “no questions asked,” Saturday. Officials gave those who turned in guns gift cards. “The weapon rate is astronomically, unbelievably off-the-charts. In my 32 years in police work, I have never seen an M-60 machine gun…It’s a belt-fed machine gun that the infantry used in Vietnam. That’s unbelievable,” McCarthy stated.
The combination of the increase in gangs, an overwhelming amount of firearms, drug sales and gang members protecting turfs make for a disastrous city riddled with murder.