With homicides, shootings and carjackings rising and her reelection prospects dimming, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday demanded an immediate moratorium on electronic monitoring for the most violent offenders and a surge in federal prosecutors and ATF agents to prosecute gun crimes.
In a speech designed to reassure frightened Chicago residents and visitors, Lightfoot also promised to “dramatically expand the reach of cameras with license plates readers” and renewed her push for City Council approval of her stalled gang asset forfeiture ordinance.
“Public safety has been, is and will continue to be my highest priority. Keeping you safe is my priority...I wake every morning with this as my first concern, and I push myself every day and all involved to step up and do more because we cannot continue to endure the level of violence we are now experiencing,” she said.
Although she claims to have been “aggressively executing on a comprehensive plan,” Lightfoot acknowledged that Chicago will “end the year far short of the expectation that we all had when the year began.”
“That is a great disappointment to me personally, the superintendent and all involved. No excuses. We must do better,” she said.
“We have taken stock, analyzed the data and will be making the necessary changes going into the new year....None of us will rest until we bring peace to our city.”
The mayor’s pre-Christmas address about the surge of violent crime that threatens to undermine Chicago’s economic future was delivered before a friendly audience at the Gold Dome Fieldhouse at Garfield Park, 100 N. Central Park Ave.
Reading from a teleprompter, Lightfoot sounded familiar themes , but unveiled no new policing strategies: Too many guns. Too many gangs. Too many people “being murdered by offenders out on electronic monitoring” with “virtually no supervision” or “community interventions.”
“The Cook County electronic monitoring system is fundamentally broken in a way that is making our city unsafe. The Cook County courts need to get the balance back and reserve electronic monitoring for only non-violent offenders,” the mayor said.
“But, until that happens, I am calling for an immediate moratorium on electronic monitoring for offenders where the lead charge is murder, attempted murder, aggravated gun possession, felons in possession, sex crimes, illegal gun possession, vehicular carjacking, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping or other crimes of violence.”
Before the pandemic, Lightfoot argued that there were “around 1,200” offenders on electronic monitoring. Now, the number is “almost 3,400” with “violent, dangerous criminals” accounting for “much of the increase,” she said.
As of Monday, the sheriff’s office had 2,706 offenders on electronic monitoring. That’s up from 2,417 before the pandemic.
“The time for talk is over. We need concrete and definitive steps to be taken...As a city, we cannot make progress on combatting violence in our neighborhoods if the county is not doing its part,” she said.
Matt Walberg, a spokesperson for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, declined to comment on Lightfoot’s moratorium demand.
Mary Wisniewski, a spokesperson for Chief Cook County Judge Tim Evans, said Monday in an email statement, “We have been informed that the mayor made a statement regarding electronic monitoring, however, we have not yet received her request.
“We share the concerns about the tragic violence in our community. This is both a local and a national problem. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in finding solutions to this complex issue.”
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell said Monday the mayor’s solutions were “based on fear.”
“The mayor’s regressive proposal calls for the pretrial detention of thousands of people who haven’t been convicted of anything and the plan could only be achieved by exploding the population of Cook County Jail in the middle of a pandemic,” according to an email statement.
“It’s clearly unconstitutional, given that everyone is entitled to an individualized hearing on the specifics of their case, but more importantly it would result in the incarceration of an untold number of people who did nothing but get accused of a criminal offense.”
To increase the number of gun investigations and gun seizures, Lightfoot asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to detail additional ATF agents to Chicago for six months along with yet another increase in federal prosecutors and ATF agents.
Although it comes as “cold comfort” to victims’ families, Lightfoot reiterated that Chicago’s crime surge is part of a national trend being duplicated in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, St. Louis and Denver.
What she failed to mention is the fact that Chicago once again has nearly twice as many murders as New York and L.A., combined.
Lightfoot touted the 48 percent homicide clearance rate she called “improved, but not good enough.” But that figure was also misleading.
The city’s own data portal shows there were 169 arrests out of 774 homicides this year. The 337 homicides that Lightfoot counted as “solved” include cases that were closed “exceptionally” because prosecutors wouldn’t approve charges or detectives say they know who did it but can’t get enough evidence to seek charges. It also includes murders from previous years that were solved this year.
So, only about 22% of the 2021 homicides listed in the city’s data portal have resulted in arrests, according to the city’s own data.
Lightfoot devoted a healthy chunk of her speech to highlighting her efforts to confront the entrenched poverty and decades of neglect that she firmly believes are the root causes of crime.
“Violence and crime are the manifestations of deeper problems. They are the offspring of poverty and neglect and the psychological trauma that comes with it,” she said.
“I have and will commit every bit of law enforcement muscle to fighting this fight. But, I also know that lasting peace and safety will only come to this city when the underlying root causes of violence and crime are also addressed once and for all.”
Through Dec. 20, there have been 812 homicides, Chicago’s highest total since the 789 homicides recorded in 1995, according to records compiled by the Cook County medical examiner’s office. That’s up from 504 homicides in 2019 and 762 homicides last year.
At least 4,360 people have been shot in Chicago this year, compared to 4,038 shooting victims in 2020 and 2,573 in 2019.
Carjackings are at their highest point ever, according to records going back to 2001.
They’re up from 552 in 2019 to 1,324 last year and 1,734 through Dec. 12 of this year.
As Chicago inched toward the dreaded homicide mark she tried desperately to avoid, Lightfoot acknowledged that, unless the Chicago Police Department produces the results that reduce that fear factor, “Nothing else matters.”
But, the mayor has also tried without success to shift the blame away from demoralized and overworked Chicago Police officers and toward prosecutors, judges and retailers.
In recent weeks, everyday residents, business and political leaders have started fighting back.
To Lightfoot’s chagrin, Bucktown residents hired their own private security firm at their own expense to combat the epidemic of carjackings in the neighborhood.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), the mayor’s own deputy floor leader, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Lightfoot should give her top cop a few more months to get a handle on Chicago’s “crime pandemic,’ but if he can’t she should dump Police Supt. David Brown and his leadership team.
Business leaders have also turned up the heat on City Hall.
Illinois Retail Merchants Association President Rob Karr accused Lightfoot of abdicating responsibility for the retail crime wave sweeping Chicago and, instead, pressuring merchants to implement their own costly, unworkable and racially insensitive security measures.
Jack Lavin, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said Chicago was “at a crossroads” because of rising crime and “skyrocketing” commercial property taxes, with the “low murmur” now becoming a “loud roar.”
Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times added even more fuel to the fire by shining a spotlight on “Our City, Our Safety,” the mayor’s ambitious plan to flood Chicago’s 15 most violent community areas with resources — not just violence intervention programs but help with jobs and housing and health.
The newspaper disclosed that, nearly a year into the effort, gun violence is up in at least nine of the areas.
Lightfoot closed her anti-crime address by appealing to Chicago’s business and philanthropic communities to “do even more”—by donating their money and their time to, what she called “the most urgent and noble cause of our time.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, we need you. No one mayor or police superintendent can do this alone. We need partners and partnerships that are broad and deep,” she said.
“There is no greater or higher calling than to be relentless in our shared mission to bring peace to our communities. I need all of you to be on this journey with me....There is no problem that we cannot tackle if we lock arms and do it together.”
Contributing: Frank Main