Even though other major cities in the U.S. are suffering from problems with gun-related violence, Chicago has sadly become the media poster child (hopefully just for the moment) and whipping boy specifically for gang-on-gang shootings and the related and random violence that continues to take innocent lives in its wake. While this is clearly a mounting national crisis and by no means limited to Chicago, one ray of local sunlight is that Chicago may have some of the best heads, analytical tools, and technology in the country for figuring out how to get ahead of the flood of weapons, wounds and widows swamping certain parts of the city almost every day.
It's clear that recent cases of police misconduct have certainly intensified the attention being paid to Chicago and the nature and volume of the ongoing conversations. But instances of bad policing don't explain and, are certainly no justification for, the new levels of violence. The perps in many of these cases are a known and relatively small number of gang members shooting their own as well as other gang members. A city of more than 2.7 million people is being plagued and terrorized by a few groups of thugs and criminals primarily located in five geographic districts in the city. And about 80% of the criminal action is centered in just 3 of those 5 problem areas. The reputational damage to the city and the psychological impact on its residents is far more broadly disbursed and felt.
According to our new police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, who spoke recently to a group of senior business leaders, while Chicago may have as many as 100,000 individuals who self-identify as gang members, there are only about 1,400 genuine thugs, criminals and felons who are doing almost all the shooting. Superintendent Johnson also pointed out that the CPD's proprietary Strategic Subject List (SSL)-- now in its 5th iteration and developed with support from the University of Chicago Crime Lab-- directly identifies the bad actors and scores each one on a scale from 1 to 500 in terms of propensity to commit and/or otherwise be involved in violent crimes. About 85% of the expected gang shooters and their victims over the next reporting period are already specifically identified on the SSL list. The remaining 15% are the innocents who get caught in the mayhem and wounded or killed by these morons.
Certainly, the ease of access to cheap and readily available guns, largely from unregulated gun shows held in adjacent states like Indiana and Wisconsin with lax gun laws and little enforcement, has increased the likelihood that there will be more and more actual shootings in the course of gang confrontations, as opposed to fistfights or beatings. Chicago's police force confiscates more illegal weapons each year than the total guns taken off the streets of New York City and Los Angeles combined.
There are many other opinions being offered by every talking head in town and elsewhere as to additional contributing causes, but only the most modest amount of real data and concrete, actionable information. Stupid judges who prematurely and repeatedly release gang members and convicted felons with rap sheets full of prior gun offenses certainly don't help the situation. Prison and parole officials who promptly push out parolees (with only a small fraction of their sentences having been served) are demonstrably prioritizing creating space in their cellblocks over citizen safety. Superintendent Johnson said that shoplifters, on average, spend more time behind bars than shooters. And we certainly can't leave the task up to the media, which always prefers to lead the nightly news with whatever bleeds. That sad and sick situation, where ratings rather than reason or any sense of responsibility rule the roost, is unlikely to change any time soon.
It's clear that we all need to take a breath and work on improving the substance of our arguments, and the effectiveness of our tactics, instead of simply raising our voices. Having some actual facts and figures available to all of us, which we can use to move the discussions forward productively, will also help us to identify and start working in the direction of some viable solutions. As the old saying goes, anyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.
Progress is being made. Under Superintendent Johnson's direction, the Chicago Police Department is using new data-driven analyses to help develop and drive alternative approaches to the community (including the known criminals) in a number of ways.
First, there is an increased emphasis on conversations, rather than confrontations. Less immediately visible police presence at events and demonstrations actually leads to less likelihood of escalation and violence.
Second, there are more and broader opportunities being identified for communication efforts that get ahead of the possible problems rather than crisis management actions that are entirely reactive in nature. Always better to avoid the pothole in the first place than to get a great deal on the cost of the tow truck.
Finally, active advance intervention and direct involvement with especially vulnerable SSL-identified gang members (accompanied by various offers of support, employment and other relief) are showing real results in reducing the likelihood of those individuals' violent behavior.
You can't ultimately answer the questions for these kids, and some will always choose the wrong path, but at least we can show them some concrete alternatives to losing their freedom or their lives or, worse yet, accidentally killing someone else.