The Illinois State Police have the right idea in stepping up patrols to end a rash of shootings on Chicago expressways, but it’s a short-term solution to what we fear is a long-term threat.
Borrowing cops from other policing agencies is a stop-gap measure at best. More lasting solutions, such as assigning more troopers to the expressways permanently and more sophisticated camera surveillance strategies, are begged for.
In 2010, there were just six shootings on Chicago area expressways, but that number jumped to 16 in 2013 and then to 18 last year. This year, there already have been 26, with more than four months to go. Most recently, the Kennedy Expy. shut down Monday morning for two hours as police investigated after an SUV driver began shooting near Sayre Avenue. Even ambulances aren’t safe; in May, one carrying a patient was struck when someone opened fire on the Dan Ryan near 31st Street.
The risk of mayhem is obvious. Hundreds of thousands of motorists use the expressways every day, and not only might some get hit in the crossfire, but startled drivers trying to evade flying bullets easily could lead to disastrous multi-vehicle pileups. And if people — commuters, tourists, delivery drivers, cabbies and families going to Grandma’s — start worrying they could get shot just driving down an expressway, this whole city is in big trouble.
Given that more than 1,800 people have been shot in Chicago since Jan. 1, it only stands to reason that the violence would spill over onto the expressways. But police say the big jump in expressway shootings is largely due to rival gang members taking their fights out of the neighborhoods, where they are leery of the police presence and omnipresent security cameras. They chase their prey right down the “on” ramps, figuring their odds of making a clean escape are much better when they can speed off at 70 mph.
On Wednesday, State Police, who have jurisdiction over the expressways and ramps, said they are borrowing officers from the Illinois attorney general’s office, the Department of Corrections and the Cook County sheriff to boost patrols from 22 troopers a day up to 30 to 35. It’s a much bigger commitment than the periodic missions launched last year to patrol expressways with troopers and Cook County sheriff’s police officers.
Most of the additional officers will patrol overnight, when most shootings have occurred. State Police also said some of the officers would be in unmarked vehicles, which is important because gang members know to avoid marked vehicles.
Chicago police have their own task, trying to tamp down the gun violence plaguing many neighborhoods, and can’t divert resources to the expressways. Just last weekend, four people were killed and 33 were wounded in shootings across the city. That number needs to come down.
On Wednesday, the State Police said they will continue the stepped-up patrols until the shootings are abated, particularly on the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower expressways, where most of the shootings have taken place.
But what next? Once the expressways quiet down and the beefed-up patrols are phased out, how long will it be before the shootings begin again?
The State Police need a better plan.
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