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As violent crime besets the city, bring in voices who can help

Let’s hear from criminal justice experts, knowledgeable law enforcement leaders, involved community activists and others.

Chicago police work the scene where a 4-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man were wounded in a shooting in the 4000 block of West Washington Boulevard in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on Aug. 6.
Chicago police work the scene where a 4-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man were wounded in a shooting in the 4000 block of West Washington Boulevard in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on Aug. 6.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

It’s time for a summit. Chicago needs more and better strategies to stop violent crime. It needs to hear the voices of those who can help.

Bring together the criminal justice experts, the knowledgeable law enforcement leaders, the involved community activists and others. Listen to them as they draw on their research and experiences to advise us on how the city can do more to stop shootings and other violent crimes. This is the kind of vision and initiative we expect of our elected leaders.

The scourge of bullets is tearing at the fabric of a metropolis proud of its skyscrapers, beaches and neighborhoods. The toll of homicides is spreading heartbreak through communities. The echoing voices of victims from every corner of our city plead with us to do more.

As Tom Schuba, David Struett, Andy Grimm, Frank Main and Andy Boyle reported in the Sunday Sun-Times, murders, shootings, rapes and car thefts are all up sharply in the downtown area. Meanwhile, the “safety gap” between downtown and some areas of the South and West sides continues to grow.

The number of shootings and total shootings per 1,000 residents has shot up nearly 220% since 2019 in the Central police district, which includes much of the downtown business district. That, by far, is the largest increase in any police district in the city.

Meanwhile, the per capita rate of shootings in West Garfield Park, the city’s most dangerous community area, is nearly 20 times higher than in downtown, according to the Sun-Times analysis of city data.

The emotional and financial costs of this carnage are immeasurable. People in the neighborhoods are suffering. Residents and businesses in the downtown area and the Gold Coast are getting fed up with crime.

Yesterday’s strategies won’t work today

Yes, crime is increasing in other cities. Homicides were up 30% from 2019 to 2020 in 34 cities studied by criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor. Gun violence and homicides increased even as residential burglary dropped by 24%, larceny declined 16% and drug offenses were 30% lower.

But Chicago can’t hide behind those numbers. Its residents look to their leaders to create an environment in which they and their loved ones feel safe.

And, yes, it is a challenge. The strategies of yesterday don’t work against the growing threats of today and tomorrow.

For just one example, “ghost guns” — homemade, untraceable weapons without serial numbers — are proliferating. They can be purchased online almost fully assembled or made with 3D printers.

“I had a board member tell me that he was on a community meeting call about gun violence and youths were telling stories about how they could go online, build ghost guns with a 3D printer — including a serial number — use the guns and then sell them on the street,” said Kathleen Sances, president and CEO of G-PAC, a gun-safety group.

Last month, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, proposed legislation to ban “ghost guns.” On Friday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a package of laws to address the gun violence epidemic, including outlawing ghost guns.

A summit would help elected leaders understand how violent crime is metastasizing and help them learn new, effective ideas to combat it.

No summit will work, though, if it is held in a vacuum. As we have written before, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Police Supt. David Brown and other leaders in the criminal justice system need to stop feuding and rally behind a plan to reduce homicides and other violence crimes.

No single strategy by itself will send serious crime plummeting. But each well thought out step can move the needle in the right direction. With the right ideas, the right execution and the right cooperation among elected leaders and other stakeholders, Chicago can be the safe city of which its residents dream.

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