Chicago Looks to Clinton Crime Plan for Relief
After a violent summer, city activists hope national initiatives will help keep weapons out of the hands of youths and criminals
CHICAGO — A DOCTOR shot by a stranger. A teenager killed by gang gunfire on his lawn.
Although major crimes are down slightly, Chicago had one of its most violent summers ever, with 98 people killed in July and 84 more in August, the Police Department reports.
``There's too many guns getting into too many young people's hands,'' said Carrie Birk, organizer of the south side's Crime Stoppers Citizen Band Patrol.
Some residents are looking to President Clinton's proposed crime package, announced Aug. 11, for relief. He wants to spend $3.4 billion to hire 50,000 police officers and to use sources such as his national-service program to add 50,000 more to national ranks. The package would convert old military bases into boot camps for young offenders, limit appeals by inmates, and expand the death penalty to 47 more crimes. Mr. Clinton ordered an import ban on assault pistols and asked Congress to pass laws stopping the sale of US-made assault weapons. But the most controversial item is probably the Brady bill, which mandates background checks and five-day waiting periods for gun buyers.
The Clinton proposal could make a difference here if some of the 100,000 police make it to these streets. Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez said Aug. 22 he hopes that the plan could add 1,000-plus officers to his force. They would bolster the new community-policing program, a pilot project in 5 of 25 districts.
This plan encourages beat-patrolling to prevent crime rather than relying solely on emergency response. Each district has an advisory council to help police target concerns such as broken street lights and abandoned buildings used for drug dealing. Mayor Richard Daley introduced the plan after being criticized for not fulfilling a 1991 campaign pledge to add 600 officers.
But simply adding 100,000 US officers will not necessarily make community policing more successful, says Warren Friedman, executive director of the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety, a coalition of 60 community groups. If officers stay on the job, long-term funding is needed. And if they make more arrests, the government will need more money to build jails. A better alternative is to give grants to local forces and neighborhood groups for training and supplies, he said.
The Daley administration is also excited about gun-control measures in Clinton's package.
ILLINOIS has a three-day waiting period and computerized background checks for gun buyers; Chicago bans handguns. But weapons pour in from suburbs and other states. Last year, Chicago police confiscated 22,600 guns, enough to reach the top of the Sears Tower.
The 3.2 million-member National Rifle Association says the proposals will hurt law-abiding citizens. The ban on imported assault pistols is a red herring because most guns used in crimes are US-made, said Joe Phillips, an NRA lobbyist. The government would do better to beef up local police forces and strengthen the court system, he says.
But Cook County State's Attorney Jack O'Malley, a Republican, said the gun flow will slow through a national effort that discourages criminals from going to states with more lenient laws. He backs restricting the ammunition supply, especially bullets for assault weapons.
Along with the Brady bill, Clinton's executive order requiring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to cooperate more with local officials will help curb the gun trade, said James Reilly, the mayor's special assistant for criminal-justice issues.
Mr. Daley supports a more ambitious plan than the president. This year, he called for a nationwide ban on assault weapons, a statewide ban on handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons, and a law making gunmakers and sellers liable for injuries caused by their weapons. He proposed a 25 percent gun and ammunition tax to fund hospital trauma centers and rehabilitation clinics.
Mr. Rodriguez supports a nationwide ban on the manufacture and sale of handguns and assault weapons, and stricter gun-law enforcement. People who want guns for protection can rely on rifles, he says. ``We've got to find some approach to keep the availability of guns restricted,'' Rodriguez said. ``We need to move and try to make some progress because we're killing ourselves.''