Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday blamed gang-bangers and gunrunners for the rare January bloodbath on Chicago streets and denied that police officers are being less aggressive in the continuing fallout from the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
“I believe that the increase in the shootings, the increase in the gun violence — the onus of that is on the gangs and the illegal flow of guns into the hands of criminals. I also believe our police are doing their job,” Emanuel said.
“They are doing a dangerous job. They are sensitive while they’re doing it to the fact of what’s going on around the city. They are only human. But it doesn’t take away from the commitment they have to the city and the safety.”
Last fall, Emanuel inadvertently made negative headlines when he contended during a closed-door meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and 20 big-city mayors and police chiefs that police officers across the nation are becoming “fetal” because they’re afraid their videotaped encounters with the public will end up on YouTube.
Now, the same term can be used to describe the defensive crouch that many Chicago Police officers have adopted in the wake of the video of white police officer Jason Van Dyke emptying 16 rounds into the body of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager.
January shootings and homicides are way up, an anomaly during a cold weather month. So far this year, there have been 45 homicides, not including two fatal shootings that were ruled justified. Three people who were wounded in 2015 died this month. This coming weekend, with unseasonably warm temperatures forecast, does not bode well for keeping a cap on shootings.
Meanwhile, police stops, gun confiscation and other indicators of police activity are way down.
On Thursday, Emanuel denied that a federal civil rights investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald has caused a decline in proactive policing.
But with morale plummeting, the mayor said police officers need a pat on the back.
“If you think officers have done a good job, tell ‘em. They need to hear it. Ones that don’t hold our highest professional standards, they need to be held accountable. Those that do — they need to be held up because they are the model of what Chicago’s police department is about,” he said.
Earlier this week, Acting Chicago Police Supt. John Escalante challenged his patrol command staff to come up with strategies to stem the January bloodbath that has sent homicides and shootings through the roof. He called the outbreak of violence “unique to Chicago.”
After the meeting with top brass, Escalante announced he was moving more than 250 police officers and 25 supervisors “from foot beats into vehicles to increase visibility and augment patrols” in Chicago neighborhoods. District commanders have also been ordered to increase home visits to known gang members.
By Feb. 6, 100 sergeants now completing training will be deployed to districts to “support officers and existing deployments,” a police spokesman said. And gang enforcement units have been “decentralized to add more mobile and nimble investigative units to areas and districts.”
On Thursday, Emanuel pointed to those steps and more when asked what he planned to do to stop the violence.
“More of the officers in the impact zones are now going to be mobile, rather than just on [their] feet so they can cover more territory. . . . [They’ll be supervised by] sergeants who are your line management and can be moved and held accountable for what’s happening in the area and the time their team is out,” the mayor said.
“There are [also] other things that we’ll be rolling out . . . to target specifically those areas of the city and those gangs that are driving the overwhelming amount of gun violence,” he said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo said his members are “not laying down on the job.”
But Angelo said, “They are cognizant of not wanting to be the next headline. From Ferguson to Baltimore, Cleveland and McDonald, there are so many different examples of people doing police work subject to litigation, separation or criminal charges.”
The FOP president also cited the two-page form that officers are now required to fill out every time they make a stop.
“It’s problematic. It takes time,” he said.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes the crime-plagued Harrison District, said most of the January violence on the West Side is “fueled by the drug trade.”
But he also said: “The police department is being cautious in the wake of all that has happened — and rightfully so. . . . People may be second-guessing themselves. It’s only natural and something that happens after a series of incidents that have occurred. . . . Officers will tell you, ‘Stuff that we did years ago, we can’t do now.’ That’s being more put under the microscope as we get into these constitutional issues, these use of force issues and the lethal weapons issue.”
Escalante and whomever Emanuel chooses as the permanent replacement for fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy will have their work cut out for them, Ervin said.
“They have the great task of restoring not only the public’s confidence, but the officers’ confidence that the city will be there to protect them,” he said.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer, said he does not believe police are laying back for fear of being captured on video.
If police activity is down, Taliaferro said it’s only because there are not enough officers on the street. Runaway overtime, to the tune of $100 million a year, is no substitute.
“When you don’t see police in an area as often as you used to, that emboldens people to do what they want to do in broad daylight. We don’t have a police presence out there like we used to,” Taliaferro said.
“We need to hire more police officers. But our previous superintendent believed that we had enough and we were adequately staffed,” he said. “I would still say that we are not.”