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Chicago is getting safer, though much more work remains to be done

There’s hope on the horizon, thanks to residents who are taking back their neighborhoods and police officers who put their lives on the line

Former Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson
Sun-Times file photo

If you’re tired of the gun violence plaguing Chicago, you’re not alone. We all need to acknowledge that progress is being made but much more work remains to make Chicago safer and stronger.

I love this city. I grew up in Cabrini–Green. I’m a product of the Chicago Public Schools system, and I raised my children to love and appreciate their South Side roots. More than 31 years of my life have been devoted to serving and protecting our city and its residents.

That’s why every incident of gun violence in this city is personal and it hurts me to see families torn apart by something that I know is fixable.

The proliferation of illegal guns crossing our state lines is not making it any easier. In the past seven months, we’ve seized over 6,500 illegal guns. That’s equivalent to one illegal gun recovered each hour of 2019, putting us on pace to seize 10,000 guns before the end of the year.

That statistic alone should make every Chicagoan sick to their stomach. No one deserves to live their lives in fear of becoming another victim of senseless gun violence, and certainly not in our city. Since Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office, we’ve retooled our approach to crime-fighting around collaboration and flooding the zone — a strategy adopted throughout every city agency that centers around addressing the root causes of violence.

We’ve identified the top beats in the city that drive violence and made societal investments, including street outreach and youth intervention, because we recognize the fact that this is a challenge that we can’t arrest our way out of.

We’ve formed strategic partnerships with Chicago Public Schools to positively engage at-risk youth and worked with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, along with community partners. This has made it possible for us to better provide employment in transitional jobs, cognitive behavioral therapy and support services to help create a viable path and opportunities for a different future, and to help reduce violence in the city’s most impacted neighborhoods.

It takes courage, commitment and compassion to confront violence. In the words of my friend and mentor Father Michael Pfleger, our faith as a city must overcome our fear of those who do not value the sanctity of human life.

There’s hope on the horizon, thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of residents who are taking back their neighborhoods and our Chicago police officers who put their lives on the line each day and night.

Murders and shootings are down 11% compared with this time last year, and many of our neighborhoods are at their lowest levels of burglaries and robberies in the last 20 years. Overall, crime is down 9% throughout Chicago, and this July saw a 33% reduction in murders compared to July 2018.

This builds on a continuous reduction in violence since we adopted a community-based, smart policing model that has reduced overall shootings by nearly 40% since 2016. This is not a cause for celebration; but it is a call for further investment into the strategies that we know are working and support for the courageous Chicagoans who are working to make a difference.

I know that no one walks around Chicago saying, “I feel 9% safer than I did last year,” especially with the weekend violence we’ve faced in recent weeks. The families of those who have suffered from gun violence certainly cannot feel safer. I know because I talk and grieve with families who have lost loved ones on a regular basis.

I have lost friends to gun violence, and our city had to bear witness to the pain and suffering our department felt when we lost five police officers from on- and off-duty tragedies.

Despite this pain, we must forge forward together and do better.

We’re continuing to invest in crime prevention tools and resources that will support our officers on the streets. We have more than 1,000 additional police officers on the streets than we did in 2016. All but two districts house Strategic Decision Support Centers that can instantaneously triangulate gunshots, allowing our officers to respond in real-time, oftentimes as the crime is in progress.

We’ve activated a South Side technology center for our detectives that will help streamline the video evidence collection and review process, and we’ll launch two more area tech centers later this month to help detectives solve crimes faster and improve the clearance rate.

We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our law enforcement partners at the federal, state and county levels. Mayor Lightfoot shares our vision for a safer, stronger Chicago. Our community partnerships are beginning to restore trust and confidence to levels that had been nearly non-existent in recent years, and we are grateful for the tireless and diligent work they do every day in this combined fight to reduce violence in our neighborhoods.

However, the most important asset in our toolbox is the trust and cooperation we earn from our communities. The quality of life in this city cannot continue improving unless we all step forward and speak out against those responsible for violence in our neighborhoods and implore our youth to find different ways to resolve conflict other than pulling the trigger of a gun.

If you’re tired of the gun violence, you’re not alone — but you don’t need to be. Let’s continue solving this problem together.

Eddie T. Johnson is the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, appointed in April 2016.

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