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Chicago’s top cop backs new gun-crime crackdown as murders rise

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie T. Johnson announces a new Illinois gun policy and legislation that aims to hold repeat gun offenders accountable for their crimes, Friday, July 1st, 2016. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The same day the Chicago Police Department released crime stats showing the city is on course to have one of the bloodiest years in recent memory, the city’s top cop said Friday he is pushing legislation that targets repeat violent offenders.

“The vast majority of the violent crime that does occur in the city is driven by a very small percentage of individuals who have wreaked havoc on some of our neighborhoods for far, far too long,” Supt. Eddie Johnson told reporters at police headquarters.

Johnson is throwing his support behind legislation that is aimed at making judges get tough with repeat gun-crime offenders.

The legislation wouldn’t change the range of prison time for a particular crime, but it would, essentially, force a judge to lean toward the high end of that range if the convicted offender has previously been convicted of a gun offense.

“What we’re trying to target here are repeat violent offenders who are in possession of guns, who we know will do harm unless we incapacitate them for a significant period of time,” said state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, a backer of the still-evolving legislation.

A judge opting for a lower sentence would have to specify on the record why they are “deviating from the presumptive guidelines,” Raoul said.

“We didn’t want to completely take away judicial discretion,” Raoul said.

Ugly trends in crime numbers continued in June with 72 murders during the month. The six-month tally of 315 killings is 49 percent higher than the first half of 2015 and puts the city on pace for 700 killings for the year, a grim forecast noted by Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo during a speech this week at the City Club.

Police officials noted that through the first half of the year, CPD officers had pulled more than a third more guns off the streets than over the same span in 2015 and touted initiatives by Johnson that put more than 150 new officers on the streets.

The increased violence comes in a year that has featured unusually warm weather — a factor in urban violence — and diminished police morale and public distrust of the CPD as the city grapples with the fallout of protests over police brutality.

In a statement issued ahead of the official release of the June crime statistics, Johnson called the level of violence in the city “unacceptable” and largely attributable to “repeat offenders with ties to gangs” and illegal guns.

In June, Johnson announced changes to CPD overtime practices and the introduction of a Summer Mobile Patrol, and increased patrols by Illinois State Police troopers on highways threading the city. Johnson’s statement also noted that 85 percent of those killed or wounded in shootings so far this year were on the CPD’s “Strategic Subject List,” a list of 1,500 or so names of residents determined to be likely victims of shootings, based on gang affiliation and relationships with previous shooting victims.

During the long Memorial Day weekend last month, the city saw 69 shootings and six murders.

On Friday, Johnson held a news conference, saying Chicagoans can expect to see “thousands more” law enforcement officers in the city than during past Independence Day weekends.

“While we face historical challenges . . . make no mistake about it, CPD is using every tool in its arsenal to ensure the safety of all Chicagoans,” Johnson said.