U of C crime expert: Reducing gun violence must be a priority of next mayor

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Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, speaks on the crime and criminal justice challenges facing the new mayor at the City Club luncheon Tuesday, March 19, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The next mayor is going to need very, very deep pockets to fix Chicago’s gun violence problem, the head of one of the country’s leading crime research centers said Tuesday.

“If the mayor is proposing a serious solution to the problem, I think one thing that we can be sure of is it’s going to be enormously expensive,” Jens Ludwig, head of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, told a City Club of Chicago luncheon.

“How expensive? You should think well into the nine figures.”

It’s not something a fresh stream of down-the-road recreational marijuana revenue can fix, he said. New revenue streams will be required, he said without offering specifics.

Ludwig pointed to one main spending option that helped New York City reduce homicides: Hire loads of more cops. New York City increased its police ranks from about 30,000 to 40,000 in the 1990s.

“I think it is not too much to say that the gun violence problem in some ways is a threat to the very future of the city of Chicago, or at least the city of Chicago as we know it,” Ludwig said.

He pointed to a study by a University of Chicago colleague that showed every homicide reduces the city’s population by 70 people.

With that in mind, he said, if Chicago had reduced its homicide rate as much as New York City has since the early 90s, the city would have 600,000 more residents.

Ludwig said the next mayor also needs to address the sky-high suicide rate among Chicago police officers. The suicide rate among police in Chicago is 60 percent above the national average for police officers, he said.

“We spend a lot of time — appropriately, appropriately — talking about undiagnosed trauma for kids growing up in the South and West Side neighborhoods where gun violence problems are prevalent,” Ludwig said.

“But for every one of those shootings, a Chicago police officer comes to the scene and sees exactly the same thing that every kid and every mom and every aunt sees,” he said. “And we don’t talk about undiagnosed trauma on police officers. And you have to think that’s at least as severe as what it is for all the kids growing up in these neighborhoods.”

Since 2011, Chicago has recorded more than 4,000 homicides. Another 19,000 people have been wounded — violence that has triggered steady population losses and a black exodus from Chicago.

Heading into the mayoral runoff April 2 it’s “very easy to become numb” to often repeated gun violence stats, Ludwig said.

“I think it’s critically important to keep in mind that behind every single number is a human life. Every one of those lives is valuable. And every one of those lives is connected to a family in the community who is absolutely devastated,” he said.

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