After Chicago shooting, should state police be sent in to help?

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn floated the idea of sending in state police, which has met with mixed reviews. Four men have now been charged in connection with the Chicago shooting that occurred last week.

Paul Beaty/ AP Photo/ File
Chicago Police detectives investigate the scene where 13 people, including a 3-year-old child, were shot in a city park in Chicago on Sept. 20, 2013. Authorities charged four men in connection with the shooting.

Even with four men charged in connection to a mass shooting in Chicago that injured 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy, some elected officials say the city needs outside help to police areas that are particularly prone to gang violence.

On Tuesday, Chicago police charged each of the four men with three counts of attempted murder and three counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. Police say two of the men, Tabari Young and Bryon Champ, opened fire on the crowd at a basketball court in retaliation for a gun wound that Mr. Champ received earlier in the day from a rival gang.

The men did not target any particular person, police say, but shot into the crowd to make a statement because the park was located in rival gang territory. The shooting took place late at night last Thursday in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

The two other men charged – Kewane Gatewood and Brad Jett – assisted in the shooting, police say. All four suspects confessed to their actions, police say, and are being held without bail.

The shooting, police say, is another example of the gang violence that has wreaked havoc in certain areas of the city. Still, they point to improved policing techniques as having helped lower the number of homicides this year compared with last – specifically, increased foot patrols, the tracking of “hot” suspects via social media, and a focus on 20 “impact zones” where violence is most likely.

But not surprisingly, elected officials are not certain enough is being done. On Saturday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) told reporters he was “willing and able to sit down” with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to talk about sending the Illinois State Police to be reinforcements in troubled areas. Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran, who represents part of the South Side, welcomed the offer through a statement released Monday, saying it had “merit.”

“What it would be is an opportunity to get more officers on the criminal element. I’ve long called for increased patrols throughout the city as an essential part of an effective violence prevention strategy, but recognize law enforcement is but one component.... I applaud Gov. Quinn for taking the initiative to offer Illinois State Police help to address safety in our city,” Mr. Cochran said.

The exchange echoes a similar offer in 2008 by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who informed Richard M. Daley, then mayor of Chicago, that the Illinois National Guard was ready for use in helping patrol streets and conduct surveillance. Mr. Daley shrugged off the offer.

Similarly, Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy was not enthralled with the current call for outside reinforcements. “No way. No how. It’s not an issue of resources.... Let’s stop the hysteria,” he told reporters Monday.

It is unusual for state or federal officials to offer outside police help to a local municipality, and such a scenario, should it happen, would probably originate from the municipality itself, says Tod Burke, a criminologist at Radford University in Virginia.

“Otherwise, it makes it look like [the local police] have no control over their own jurisdiction. So it becomes territorial. By automatically making the offer, it looks like an overreaction,” Professor Burke says.

The labor union representing Chicago police officers continues to say that a major factor contributing to the violence is a manpower shortage, due to budget cuts enacted by Mayor Emanuel shortly after he took office.

“It is a staffing issue,” says Pat Camden, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge 7. “We have a mayor that balanced the budget on the back of public safety. As a result of that, we have lost the proactive end of policing.”

Should Chicago ever request outside troops, the Police Department would maintain authority, Burke notes. The added troops would serve only in a backup role at the discretion of the local police.  

Yet crime research indicates that more feet on the ground do not necessarily affect the homicide rate. Even in Chicago, for example, the homicide rate, though troublesome, is at a low when compared with the past two decades – despite fewer recruits and budget cuts. The improved policing techniques, coupled with technology advances, have helped bring down the homicide number, Burke says.

“How do you account for crime rates dropping over such a long period of time when you have such fewer officers on the street? It’s not so much how many officers you have, but what you’re doing with those officers that matters,” he says.

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