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Emanuel calls soaring homicides ‘totally unacceptable’

Scene of a homicide in late February. Two people were shot in the 900 block of West 85th Street. One was dead at the scene. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday branded as “totally unacceptable” the bloodbath that has Chicago on pace to reach 600 homicides in 2016.

The mayor also acknowledged that the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the sweeping federal civil rights investigation triggered by dash cam video of a white police officer pumping sixteen rounds into the body of a black teenager has resulted in an unfortunate decline in pro-active policing.

“Our officers — and I can tell you this first hand—are sensitive and aware of the last two months of the discussion,” Emanuel said of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald that triggered a sweeping federal civil rights investigation and the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

“We have to be able as a city to hold up those who are an example of the community policing we want to see in our Police Department while we hold accountable individuals who do not uphold the best standards and the highest standards.”

Emanuel can no longer deny that Chicago Police officers are being less aggressive in the continuing fallout from the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the time-consuming, but recently revised forms that must be filled out by officers after they stop people.

That’s obvious by the 87-percent drop in the number of police stops this year while homicides and shootings are through the roof, to levels not seen since the 1990’s.

The defensive crouch has gotten so bad, Interim Police Supt. John Escalante recently recorded a video message to assure rank-and-file police officers concerned about “the next YouTube video that goes viral” that “there is a difference between a mistake and misconduct” and that the Justice Department and ACLU are not personally targeting officers, but looking at systematic problems.

On Wednesday, Emanuel was asked about the troubling trends going in opposite directions.

Ninety-five people were murdered on the streets of Chicago over the first two months of the year, according to CPD statistics, the largest number of homicide victims in Chicago since 1999 and nearly double the body count over the same period of 2015 when 48 people were killed.

That number tops 100 when other deaths from the year are included, such as a fatal police shooting, homicides ruled self-defense and pending death investigations.

The spike in homicides comes as the number of street stops by police plummeted from 111,831 in January and February of 2015 to just 14,648 this year.

“It is first and foremost totally unacceptable especially given in 2013 and 2014, we saw drops in homicides to record lows. It is unacceptable what’s happening in parts of the neighborhoods of our city . . . where gang members with too easy access to guns and too little exposure to values are literally taking their gang warfare into the neighborhoods of our city,” the mayor said.

“The people responsible for the violence are not the police. They’re the gang members. They’re the ones pulling the triggers. Our police are trying to do a job to stop it. . . . Somewhere in the city, there’s an officer responding to a 911 call. You’re not going to read about it. You’re not going to hear about it. They’re doing their job and doing it well.”

To rebuild public trust shattered by his decision to keep the Laquan McDonald shooting video under wraps for more than a year, Emanuel has been holding community meetings across the city. He has also held countless meetings with police officers, whose morale had never been lower.

The mayor said he came away from those meetings convinced that bridge between citizens and police so essential to solving crimes can and will be rebuilt.

“Members of the community want more officers in their lives — not less. They want to know the name of the officer and the officer should know the name of the community members or the business owners. That is what we’re trying to establish and the trust,” the mayor said.

“I do know our officers want to do their job. They want to do it and they want to bring safety. This is not just a job to them. This is a career and a calling. And as we handle some of the challenges — and we will handle them — we have to do it in a way that continues to support the community policing and the trust that is essential to the safety we want to see in every part of the city.”

On Wednesday, the mayor talked about the police officer he met recently who is starting his own basketball league for neighborhood kids.

“I’m going to go kick it off with him because that officer is the true face of the Chicago Police Department,” Emanuel said.