Chicago violent crime has soared in 2016. What's the response?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to combat increasing crime in Chicago starts with a new interim police superintendent.

Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP
Family members and friends watch at the Chicago PD investigate the scene where a 31-year-old man was short to death in South Shore (Mar. 30, 2016). Crime statistics show Chicago is increasing in homicides and shootings.

A video released Thursday captures the moment a man was gunned down in Chicago’s South Side in the middle of live-streaming footage for his Facebook account.

The violent attack was one of 10 separate shootings that took place in Chicago that day, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. The shootings highlight an increasingly visible trend for Chicago – a rise in violent crime to levels rarely seen in decades.

As of March 30, there were 135 homicides in Chicago during the first quarter of the year – a 71 percent increase from the same period last year when 79 homicides were reported, according to Chicago police data. The homicide totals are the highest they have been since 1999. A Tribune analysis showed shootings citywide were also up from last year 73 percent, totally 727 reported.

To address the problem, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a controversial decision this week: choosing Eddie Johnson, Chicago Police Department’s chief of patrol, as the new interim superintendent.

To understand why that decision irked some, it's worth examining some of the factors that may be contributing to the city's crime spike.

Chicago has been on the precipice of an education crisis. Roughly 27,000 city teachers have worked since July without a contract, The Christian Science Monitor reported on Friday. Chicago public schools, the nation's third largest school district, faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit and an even larger multi-billion dollar debt from pensions.

Financial struggles at the state and city level could also be influencing crime rates. Illinois has gone nearly a year without a state budget. And Chicago residents have been battling an unemployment rate slowly ticking upward, reaching 7.2 percent unemployment in February, according to the Chicago Business Journal.

But Mayor Emanuel has mainly attributed the rising 2016 crime rate to a newly paralyzed police force, which is where the new interim superintendent Eddie Johnson comes into the picture.

Last fall, Emanuel told US Attorney General Loretta Lynch that the Chicago police force had become “fetal” as a result of heightened public scrutiny, according to the Washington Post. “... They don’t want to be a news story themselves, they don’t want their career ended early, and it’s having an impact,” he said.

The police force has been reeling from protests over the police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. Four months ago, Chicago the mayor fired the city’s chief of police amid large-scale protests. 

Mr. Johnson was handpicked by Emanuel as interim superintendent to combat the paralysis and restore trust in police leadership in both officers and the public.

Johnson is a 27-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, but wields intimate knowledge of being on the receiving end of controversial police practices. In an extended interview with the Tribune, Johnson revealed that he had been racially profiled by police during his college years.

His selection to become the interim superintendent was unorthodox. He was not one of the three proposed candidates for the position put forward by the Chicago Police Board, nor did he apply for the position.

“The mayor is confident that Eddie Johnson is the right person at the right time to fight crime, lift morale in the police department, and build on the work that’s been done to restore trust and accountability in the police department,” the mayor's office said in a statement.

Although crime rates have risen the first three months of this year, Chicago police data also indicates a silver lining. While gun seizures and police stops were down and murder rates were up overall, March saw a much lower increase than previous months in murders and gun arrests and investigations have increased, according to the Post. 

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