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Mayor: July 4 weekend death toll lowest in 8 years

First Deputy Supt. John Escalante (left) and Supt. Eddie Johnson addressed reporters on Tuesday. | Virginia Barreda/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday credited the potent but costly mix of police overtime, summer jobs and a preemptive gang takedown for Chicago’s least deadly July Fourth weekend in eight years.

It’s a function of how violent Chicago has become that a three-day holiday weekend with four homicides and 50 shooting victims is considered progress. But it’s the reality in a city that has seen a 49 percent increase in both shootings and homicides during the first six months of this year while police activity has plummeted.

This year’s July Fourth weekend reversed the trend, albeit briefly, with murders falling to nearly half the two-day 2015 weekend, when there were seven killings. That’s why Emanuel was patting the extraordinary number of moonlighting police officers on the back Tuesday instead of bemoaning the bloodshed on Chicago streets.

“I want to compliment every person on the police department who worked this weekend. Who did overtime or basic tour. Who signed up for extra hours [for] having a quieter weekend,” the mayor said.

“I don’t want to misstate. There was still gun violence,” he said. “But we had fewer homicides than, I think, the last eight years.”

At a separate press conference at CPD headquarters on Tuesday, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson credited a surge in the number of CPD officers on the streets for the relatively calm weekend, as well as the arrest earlier in the week of 88 “targeted” individuals. Thanks to officers working overtime, CPD had 5,000 officers on patrol over the weekend, a major boost over the 3,000 to 4,000 officers on the street on a typical weekend.

CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said all 88 people arrested in CPD’s targeted raids ahead of the holiday remained jailed over the weekend. But Johnson admitted that, despite the steep increase in shootings and murders over the first six months of the year, the beefed-up patrols aren’t sustainable.

“We’re constantly reevaluating what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “Some of the adjustments made were with people who ordinarily would not be out there” — officers who were working on off days or had taken on added shifts.

Emanuel acknowledged Chicago taxpayers can’t afford to have 5,000 police officers flood the streets every weekend.

It’s not sustainable in a city that spent a record $116.1 million on overtime in 2015 — up 17.2 percent from the previous year — to mask a manpower shortage that has mushroomed under Emanuel, with police retirements outpacing hiring by 975 officers.

But the mayor said: “What you can sustain is, rather than our violent gang offenders and repeat offenders having the rest of the criminal justice system like a turnstile,” you lock them up.

Emanuel said he just came from the 2nd District and got an earful from officers about that very issue.

“They’re done booking somebody, and those guys are back out on the street within hours and days,” he said.

“The fact is, you can have an impact. . . . Having a focused strategy getting the repeat offenders off the street sends a clear signal as we are working towards legislation that repeat gun offenders do not belong on the streets. So people in our neighborhoods . . . can enjoy — not just the Fourth of July. Any day.”

Johnson also touted the need to pass legislation, backed by state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, that would pressure judges to hand out stiffer sentences for gun crimes committed by offenders with prior gun-related convictions.

“We have too many guns on the streets of Chicago, and too many people willing to use them,” Johnson said.

Contributing: Virginia Barreda