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The Uncertain Future of Chicago Policing

The Christmas holiday left 53 people shot and 11 dead, to round out one of the deadliest years on record in the Windy City. All told, 4,300 people were shot and 770 murdered in Chicago during 2016, up from 2,989 and 492, respectively, in 2015.

Chicago’s grim statistics place it in the very upper tier of violent cities in the US—in fact, its numbers completely blow away those of other cities combined. Chicago is nearly twice as violent as New York City—which has a population around three times that of the Windy City’s. And Chicago’s numbers of homicides outpaced Los Angeles—by nearly one hundred.

Now, the City’s former Police Superintendent has stirred controversy by saying that the political pushback against the police in recent years has been a big factor in spurring the rise in violent crime. Garry McCarthy, formerly the most senior officer in the force, expressed his believe that the public pressure on Chicago’s police is crippling their capacity to prevent and solve crime.

“We have completely flipped the script where we investigate police and not criminals, and as a result, we are reaching lawless state in this country… Because of one shooting, we’ve completely turned over Chicago, and people are dying… If you just abandoned all of the successful things we do this is what is going to happen.” – Garry McCarthy, former Chicago Police Superintendent

McCarthy’s detractors will chalk up the claims as merely a bitter commentary from a disgruntled former city employee. In 2015, McCarthy was fired by Mayor Emanuel over police handling of the 2014 shooting of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald.

But a more unbiased look reveals truth in McCarthy’s sentiments.

Police stops in Chicago have dropped dramatically recently, from 157,000 in 2015 to just 21,000 in 2016. As a result, police officers are taking significantly fewer weapons off the streets. Officers confiscated 1,413 guns in 2015 verse just 1,316 in 2016. One thing which is important to note within statistics is the overall increase in effectiveness with which police are making these confiscations—keeping the numbers much higher relative to stops. Year-over-year police stops dropped by 86% while these firearm confiscations dropped by just 7%. That growth in efficiency is admirable, as well as crucial for a police department with too few officers. The bottom line, however, is that police are less active in communities now than was the case in 2015.

One major driver of the decrease in police stopping pedestrian has been a department-wide move away from the city’s CompStat system. CompStat, which stands for Computer Statistics, is a police management tool which records violent crimes. The tech can display this data, alongside data for police stops, on a map for law enforcement higher-ups to review. But a major criticism of McCarthy’s term as Police Superintendent was his extremely aggressive CompStat meetings, with district commanders feeling extreme pressure to produce stops – and arrests – within crime prone areas.

While police departments do not admit that they set quotas for their officers, the “silent quota” system has been described by former officers in many cities. A law enforcement culture which strives for high officer productivity is a great thing. The danger lies in specific numbers that push officers into lackluster performance—situations where protect and serve gets pushed aside in favor of arrest and ticket.

According to the Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, Chuck Wexler, there is a major problem when law enforcement begins to see the neighborhoods they police as a “source of revenue.”

Some officers have expressed their concerns that playing the numbers game actually makes their policing less effective; if an officer needs to hit their ticket quota and resorts to bothering innocent citizens to drum up potential tickets, they’re directly impacting community trust.

Moving Forward

It is unlikely that Chicago will move back towards these aggressive police tactics, following a scathing report from Attorney General Lorretta Lynch released in January.

This report found that police in Chicago have violated the constitutional rights of residents for years and specifically cited excessive force, shootings of citizens who did not pose an imminent threat to officers and too infrequently deploying stun guns. This report was the culmination of a year-long investigation undertaken by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama.

This report, one of the final acts from Ms. Lynch’s Justice Department, comes at a very uncertain time for police departments in the United States.

During the president campaign, Donald Trump was a staunch support of police departments across the country.

“To all the great men and women of law enforcement, I want you to know, we’re with you, we support you, and we will stand by you… We’re going to restore law, order and justice in America,” said Donald Trump in a campaign speech in Florida on November 2nd, 2016.

Between the Justice Department Report and the new presidential administration, what it all means for the future of America’s police departments—and the rights of citizens who encounter police on a daily basis—is yet to be determined. But it is likely that the message from President-elect Trump’s White House will be one more in-line with former Police Superintendent McCarthy’s comments than Attorney General Lynch.

When it comes to firearm policies in the United States, Donald Trump seems likely to be accommodating to gun owners and dealers. While the Obama Administration was often the butt of conservative criticism around his gun control policies, his actions in office did not do much to limit American gun rights. President Obama garnered a reputation as one of the most anti-gun politicians to hold our country’s highest office. The National Rifle Association stated, “President Obama's obsession with gun control knows no boundaries.” But a careful look at the gun laws passed during his two terms reveals a different perspective. Only two bills were made into law, with neither making additional restrictions to gun ownership—in actuality, the two gun laws expanded gun ownership rights.

“We need a Supreme Court that in my opinion is going to uphold the Second Amendment, and all amendments, but the Second Amendment, which is under absolutely siege,” said Donald Trump last fall.

Michael Schmiege, a top Chicago criminal defense attorney, commented on the issue, saying, “Chicago has struggled mightily with a proliferation of weapons—largely handguns—and their massive contribution to violent crime. The purpose and extent of the Second Amendment here in our city has become blurry. Between an excess of illegal handguns, a lack of police efforts and oversight, a massively violent 2016, and a brand new President about to take office, 2017 may be a deciding year for violent crime in Chicago—we can’t say yet whether it’ll make or break us.”

Attorney Schmiege is known for defending his clients’ rights. He’s successfully defended countless Chicagoans in court facing weapons charges, as well as those who have been victims of unfair policing. Contact his law offices today for a free consultation—make sure you have the best attorney in the city on your side.

405 N. Wabash Ave., Suite P2C, Chicago, IL 60611
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Law Offices of Michael P. Schmiege - Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
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