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Editorial: City needs quick answers to increase in violent crime

A demonstrator confronts police officers during a protest for the fatal police shooting of Paul O'Neal on August 5 in Chicago. O'Neal, an unarmed 18-year-old man was shot and fatally wounded July 28, when Chicago Police officers tried to arrest him for allegedly stealing a Jaguar car from the suburbs. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

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Violent crime is rising in Chicago, virtually across the board. Citizens, as they should, are looking to city leaders to make their neighborhoods safer.

As Chris Fusco and Jordan Owen reported in the Sunday Sun-Times, shootings, killings, sexual assaults, robberies and aggravated batteries are up since last year. Through Aug. 7, murders rose 43 percent, shootings rose 48 percent, robberies rose 27 percent and sexual assaults rose 20 percent. (The Police Department statistics can include unsubstantiated complaints, and the murder total doesn’t include cases handled by the Illinois State Police.)

Although violent crime remains down from peak levels in past years, that’s small comfort to people who feel less safe in their communities. Turning this around should be a top priority for City Hall and the Police Department.

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The Police Department points out that total crime is down 24 percent over the last four years, including reductions in robberies, aggravated battery, burglary and theft. People would feel better about that if the trends weren’t heading in the wrong direction.

This isn’t just Chicago’s problem. According to a Major Cities Chiefs Association survey of 63 police departments, homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and non-fatal shootings all increased in the first six months of 2016 in cities around the country compared with the same period the year before. Cities with increases in homicides included Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Philadelphia and San Antonio. Nationwide, homicides were up 14 percent.

But citing those statistics means little to people when violent crime strikes them or their loved ones. More than 2,400 people have been shot this year in Chicago. On Monday, nine people were shot and killed, the deadliest day in Chicago in 13 years. Violent robberies are taking place in neighborhoods around the city. Just between Friday night and early Saturday two people were killed and at least eight others were wounded in shootings. On Friday, police warned of several violent robberies in Roseland and Chatham. Armed robberies also have taken place recently in Lake View, North Center and Lincoln Square.

To its credit, City Hall has for several years pushed long-range plans to reduce crime by improving schools, instituting violence-reduction strategies and attracting development and jobs to economically challenged neighborhoods. On Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city’s largest jobs program provided more than 30,000 jobs this summer for youths.

But programs designed to change long-term trends don’t bring quick results. City Hall and the Police Department need to devise additional strategies that will allow people to breathe a little more easily this summer.

Earlier this month, Chicago hosted a summit with police chiefs, the FBI and the Department of Justice to discuss new ways to halt gun violence. That’s a start, but only a start.

One reason frequently cited for the national increase in violent crime is police have become less aggressive in trying to deter crime. Dean Angelo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, says Chicago officers are not “as proactive as they used to be” to avoid being tagged as racially insensitive while the U.S. Department of Justice investigates the Chicago Police Department. Police officials deny their officers are backing off.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi points to repeat offenders with easy access to illegal guns.

“What continues to contribute to the violence is the lack of accountability for repeat gun offenders that get back out on the streets far too soon to commit the same crimes over and over again,” Guglielmi said in an email.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Chicago is on track to have more than 650 murders this year, the most in almost two decades.

The city can’t allow that to happen. The time to figure out how to prevent it is now.

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