In Chicago, heat and homicide stoke fear and frustration
Chicago's surging murder rate is now four times that of New York. With drug cartels battling for turf and gang warfare turning chaotic, how can the Windy City get a handle on its homicides?
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Biggane counters that the latest strategy is designed to bring a more consistent police presence to the neighborhoods, with an eye to stabilizing the streets so that violence decreases over time. "They get to know the areas they are surveying. They are not simply popping in and popping out like the old teams did," she says.Skip to next paragraph
For Mayor Emanuel, just 14 months into his term, the homicide spree is putting intense scrutiny on his administration's response. He was criticized after extra police officers were deployed to tourist-dominated downtown in the wake of a few street attacks and muggings, and after the Chicago Sun-Times reported in June that at least 100 police officers were sent to secure a wedding attended by President Obama.
"I don't think there's a recognition [in the mayor's office that] there's a full city out there," says Alderman Leslie Hairston of the Fifth Ward on the South Side. "[Emanuel] is from the North Side, and all his communities are being well served. But the programs and policies are not the same on the South Side. There's definitely a disparity."
Emanuel said recently that he appreciates the "impatience" of his city council critics and that he shares their alarm. He has lately launched initiatives to attack the violence from the back end – cracking down on convenience and liquor stores that he says can attract illegal activity and seeking to demolish about 200 buildings identified as gang havens. In late June, he announced $1 million for programs for CeaseFire – a violence-mediation program that enlists former gang members – for two neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.
Some say all the focus on gangs and police tactics is misplaced – and may not be the real problem. "The violence is largely spontaneous and out of control. It's triggered by all sorts of unrelated events," says John Hagedorn, a criminal justice professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies gangs. "The whole policy discussion is not dealing with the long-term problem, and that's the inability of people to have hope."
City and state cuts to mentoring and summer programs in recent years directly correspond to more street violence, says Rick Velasquez of Youth Outreach Services, a group that serves Austin and other poor Chicago neighborhoods. The same week of Heaven's murder, Mr. Velasquez notes, he laid off 10 CeaseFire workers in Austin because state funding had run out.
"Violence is like a virus in how it spreads. Having adults around kids who are helping shepherd them is extremely important," he says. "Those things have been removed from the communities that ... need them the most."
In these tough fiscal times, cuts have been widespread. Last year, Chicago trimmed police spending by $67 million over the previous year. State, city, and Chicago Public School budgets are forecasting deficits, a sign that cuts to crime-prevention and social efforts may continue.
"The city is extremely serious about the crime problem, but the challenge you have ... is the budget situation," says Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which researches gangs. "The idea you can take an ax to police, public schools, and social programs without seeing some kind of blowback on the crime problem doesn't seem realistic."
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