If you were not from Chicago and you saw or read anything about Chicago in the news last month, it was either about the heat wave or the murder rate. Much of the country is suffering record high temperatures this summer. Here in Chicago we have had the warmest July in many years. Temps soared over 100 degrees every day for about a week. Although we have had a little break from it next week looks like it will be more of the same. As a matter of fact today is expected to hit 97 degrees.
2012 has the makings of a record high year for homicides. Chicago may end up as number 1 in the US. Wow what an honor. Or rather dishonor. Debate over the reasons for this extremely high murder rate is as hot as our temperatures.
Every police officer knows that warmer temps bring more crime. Cold winter nights just are not conducive to gangbanging on a corner. Drive by shootings are much more difficult when you have to push your car out of a snow bank on a side street. Hot, humid, summer nights when you just cannot cool off, really do cause tempers to flair. No one will deny this and no one is even debating this as the cause for the increase for summer crime.
The question is, however, is this heat responsible for the spike in homicides. Aldermen, whose wards envelope the hardest hit by these murders, blame the mayor and police superintendent for allowing this recent spike to happen.[i] They point out that the murder rate has risen since the department eliminated the city wide mobile units that previously were used to saturate an area that was experiencing spikes in violence.
New police strategies call for an increase in manpower assigned permanently to these areas. Superintendent Garry McCarthy stated that the previous strategy was merely putting a band aid on a problem but did not address the underlying problem creating the crime conditions. Both he and the mayor agree the problems today are the result of the failed practices of the past. New policy is aimed at a citywide anti gang policy.
New policies state the problems arise from fracturing street gangs. Chicago has many large street gangs and due to continued police pressure on these gangs, the leaders have been eliminated. This caused the larger gangs to fracture into many smaller factions as no one leader has emerged to take over. Most of this gun violence in among different factions of these gangs.[ii]
The city has deployed specialized undercover officers to units on the city’s West and South Sides, as well as saturating area neighborhoods with uniformed cops. Unfortunately gun violence continues in these areas and it continues to spill over into the population and it is common, now, to hear news stories like “Seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was selling cold drinks and candy at a street stand with her mother when she was shot to death, becoming the 253rd victim this year of Chicago’s surging murder rate.”
Police unions are rightfully quick to point out that the police department is understaffed to adequately handle today’s volume of crime. The department has not hired enough officers to keep up with retirements for several years and most units are considerably understaffed compared to levels just three years ago. The department will point out, that with recent restructuring and reorganization of the department, current manpower is sufficient.
The superintendent has been quoted as saying” the city was dealing with a “perception problem” when it comes to its homicide and shooting rates.” It is true; perception is the key to policing and always has been. Facts are the homicide rates are down considerably from the 1990’s when they were soaring over 900 a year. If the people feel safe in their home then you have been doing your job. However when you see headlines like “Chicago Homicide Rate Worse Than Kabul, Up To 200 Police Assigned To High-Profile Wedding” and read stories telling them that we have roughly the same number of homicides as New York City and they have three times as many people as we do, the perception is that they are not safe. At that point, as a police department we have failed in our duty to the public.
Current statistics from the police department state that other crimes are down from years past. That may be true; however the media continues to report stories of crimes which cause the general population to fear for their safety in areas once considered safe. One new trend in crimes is known as Apple Picking. People using public transportation are being robbed of their smart phones. [iii] Stories like this have people in the tourism industry worried as Chicago tourism officials can’t get their story straight and decide if there has been an impact on tourism or not.[iv]
When I look at all that is going on I am surprised that the warm weather isn’t taking more heat for being the culprit in Chicago crime. It certainly would be an easy out however it would be inaccurate. Our problems stem from deep seated roots and did not blow in on a high pressure front. The gang problems will not blow away with the leaves in the fall. If something doesn’t happen soon we will see just how this perception causes repercussions that cost the city, its elected officials and its taxpayers dearly.
Failure to reign in this problem and change the perception could be a political nightmare for the Mayor and in turn the Superintendent. If they cannot change the perception of the public, and make them feel safe on their front porch this could eventually lead to businesses pulling out of Chicago for areas they perceive to be safer. It is already hard to compete for tourism against places like Disney World and Las Vegas. It is hard to compete for manufacturing businesses when it is cheaper to build a plant elsewhere. The perception that Chicago is unsafe could be nails in the coffin.
They are forecasting another week of record highs and little relief is in sight. The rest of summer will be long and hot. But for the Mayor and Superintendent it will be perceived as a lot hotter than it really is.
Learn more about this article here
Lt. Robert Weisskopf is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Lt. Weisskopf comes from a law enforcement family, including two uncles, a nephew, and his father. Weisskopf wears his father’s lieutenant’s star. Lt. Weisskopf is a graduate of Lewis University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently serves as commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section which has approximately 200 officers, a unit bigger than most police departments in the United States.
During his decade-long tenure, the unit has increased officer response from handling three calls per day to 8 calls an hour. He has been a patrol officer, a district rapid response sergeant, and a watch commander in the 17th District. He spent a year detailed to HUD performing public housing narcotics investigations.
Weisskopf is an expert in collaborative leadership and informally mentoring younger officers. He enjoys the constant challenge of policing and problem solving. He just finished a five-year term as President of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, the collective bargaining organization for the Chicago Police Department’s lieutenants and was chief negotiator of the current contract.