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Police and crime

June 16, 2012


FOLLOWING a particularly violent weekend in May, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy wasted no time. They held a news conference on May 29 … and announced a new partnership with CeaseFire Illinois, an anti-violence organisation based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Until that point, the city repeatedly had declined invitations to formally support CeaseFire, which gets most of its funding from the state. Year after year, City Hall and police officials had preferred traditional approaches to fighting crime…. They viewed CeaseFire warily.

But those reservations melted after 40 shootings across the city left 10 dead in one weekend. If anything revealed the city’s level of depletion and frustration … it was Mr Emanuel’s decision to partner with CeaseFire — a tacit acknowledgment that police department strategies to reduce violence could use an addendum. That said, we don’t hold the police responsible for Chicago’s murder rate. Officers usually are called to a homicide scene only after some assailant has decided to fire a bullet, or wield a knife, or wave a club — and a victim is lying on the ground….

CeaseFire, by contrast, works in a pre-emptive way, deploying its staff as ‘interrupters’ to staunch violence before it originates or escalates. Residents call a hotline to report tensions brewing on their blocks. CeaseFire sends staff immediately to broker communication and, we all can hope, to cool tempers. The city has agreed to fund CeaseFire for one year at $1.5m.…

Like many cities, Chicago has employed dozens of strategies to reduce crime. Earlier curfews. Gun bans. After-school programmes. Surveillance cameras. More police. Targeted police. Police on bicycles. Police undercover. Guess what? The strategies have helped to reduce the murder rate and overall crime during recent years…. That said, the murder rate here remains stubbornly above those of many other cities; this year Chicago’s homicide toll is 35 per cent higher than last year’s.

The recent wave of violence … stands as a reminder that spikes in crime cannot be ignored. Gunfire has turned certain Chicago neighbourhoods into war zones….

Here’s another fact, and we can’t state it too often: the human suffering caused by all this violence reaches well beyond the burning pain of bullets, the efficient extermination of lives…. Each of these incidents also causes so much emotional heartbreak … [CeaseFire Illinois’ director Tio Hardiman], who is African-American, is especially troubled that so many of these deadly encounters involve black men attacking black men … Mr Hardiman’s group and Chicago police have different strategies but one goal: disrupting antagonism and retaliation before more young people die — and before even younger people tumble into that same culture of violence…. Can the organisation dull the spikes in violence this summer? Can CeaseFire live up to its name in some of Chicago’s most violent communities? It has one year and $1.5m to show us. —(June 14)