Greising: Finger-Pointing Isn’t a Crime-Fighting Plan, Mayor

Lightfoot and her police chief have yet to deliver a strategy that works. When that strategy materializes, the state's attorney's office and the courts will do their parts.

Police investigate murder of a young man found shot to death in the back seat of a bullet-riddled car on June 30, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

BGA President David Greising writes a regular column for Crain's Chicago Business.

It seems ghoulish, somehow, to be arguing about statistics while a rain of bullets in Chicago this summer kills people in the streets.

Worse still, the people most responsible for fighting the violence are at odds, trying to finger each other for blame.

Chicago's July Fourth weekend was the most violent since 2017—108 people shot and at least 17 people killed. The city is on a pace to match the body count from last year, with 362 homicides so far. The 2020 death rate was up more than 40 percent from the prior year, a jump blamed in part on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police Superintendent David Brown blames the Cook County courts for granting early release to people accused of violent crimes. Chief Judge Tim Evans says there is no evidence connecting bail reform and the release of individuals awaiting trial to the increase in crime.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has claimed, falsely, that the courts were closed for 15 months. State's Attorney Kim Foxx says her office is ready to convict criminals—if only the cops could arrest more alleged criminals.

Even the Chicago City Council couldn't resist temptations to get in on the act. Just hours before the July Fourth holiday began—perhaps the most challenging weekend of the year—the council hauled Brown down to City Hall and burned six hours with questions about why the city's top cop does not have more answers for the city's crime wave.

It's cold comfort that Chicago is not alone. A 25 percent increase in homicides nationwide last year was blamed in part on people being cooped up during the pandemic. But COVID restrictions are easing, and violent crime in major cities in the U.S. continues unabated.

Chicago got another notch of unwanted national notoriety July 7 when two federal agents and a Chicago police officer were shot hours before President Joe Biden's visit to McHenry County.

The lack of a consensus among Chicago officials about how to fight the city's crime wave is a symptom of the lack of an effective crime-fighting plan. Lightfoot in May described a "whole of government" approach—focused on four key zones plagued by violent crime and involving schools, libraries and family support services in the fight to cut violence.

The approach sounds good. But so did Brown's plan to institute "de-escalation" tactics when he arrived in Chicago more than a year ago. A reprise of community policing sounded good, too. None have had much effect.

Mike Tyson is quoted as saying everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face. The same can be said about Chicago's plans to fight violent crime. However appealing the plans, they so far have not held up once reality smacks them in the face.

To develop an effective approach, the leaders at least will need to start from a reliable set of facts.

Lightfoot repeatedly has blamed the Cook County courts for not putting criminals behind bars. "Our criminal courts have been shut down for 15 months," she said at a June 28 press conference.

But reporting by the Better Government Association determined that most court operations continued, remotely and in person, throughout the pandemic. Jury trials resumed in March of this year.

Brown blames the Cook County courts' reduction of cash bail and use of electronic monitoring. He points to specific cases in which people on pretrial release allegedly committed violent crimes.

But Evans correctly notes that anecdotes are unreliable evidence. And a Loyola University Chicago study of the implementation of bail reforms in Cook County found no increase in violent crime arising from bail reform. Besides, bail reform took effect in 2017, which makes it an improbable cause for a crime surge that started in 2020.

Brown proudly recites the Chicago Police Department's success in taking illegal handguns off the streets. But he provides no evidence that this tactic is helping to reduce shootings overall.

The disputes, contradictions and statistical non sequiturs go on and on. Before long, the battling data does more to conceal the truth than to reveal it.

The bottom line is that Lightfoot and Brown—the people with the chief responsibility for safety in the streets—have yet to deliver a plan that works. When that plan comes, the state's attorney's office and the courts almost certainly will do their parts.

 

First, tell us the plan. And once the plan takes effect, the data finally will create a story worth telling.