Rise in homicides, shootings is bad news at bad time for Emanuel

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There were 80 homicides in the first three months of 2015, according to Chicago Police Department data. | File Photo

A troubling spike in both homicides and shootings in Chicago could not come at a more difficult time for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

There were 80 homicides in the first three months of the year — nearly 30 percent more than the same period in 2014, according to Chicago Police.

That’s the highest first-quarter total since since 2012 when 117 people were killed in the first three months, according to Chicago Police data. Police also reported that compared to last year, shootings were up by about a third so far. The 414 people shot in the first quarter of the year was the most since 562 people were shot in the first three months of 2012.

The news comes with just six days to go in a mayoral campaign that has seen challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia hammering Emanuel for the 10,000 shootings on his watch and promising to deliver on the mayor’s broken promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers.

“Yes, homicides are up and shootings are up. [But] gun seizures are [also] up. We’ve seized guns more by, I think, 20-to-25 percent. Overall crime is down. I’m proud of that number. But I’m not proud of the more important number that affects the quality of life,” Emanuel said Wednesday after accepting the endorsement of members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.

HOMICIDE WATCH: Murders, shootings up to start 2015

“That means, while we have model gun control legislation here — at gun stores, it’s now filmed. There are further background checks. [But] to get the gains we need, you need to change the gun laws. Which means Springfield has to step up. There has to be an alteration. We cannot just be focusing on minor narcotics. We must be focusing on gun use and make sure the criminal justice system is actually focused comprehensively [on] dealing with the access and freedom of guns coming into the city of Chicago.”

Garcia reacted quickly to the new crime numbers, delaying a news conference on public housing issues to schedule another to blast Emanuel.

“Public safety is not a major concern of Rahm Emanuel and his administration. The leadership of the Chicago Police Department leaves a lot to be desired. However, you must remember that the ultimate decision maker, the ultimate decider of which policies are instituted as it relates to public safety deployment of services and resources is the mayor of the city of Chicago,” Garcia said.

Speaking outside the 12th District police station on the Near West Side, Garcia also hinted that Police Supt. Garry McCarthy may not have a job should he win.

“The report that we are addressing is very disappointing and is very disheartening. This doesn’t bode well for Superintendent McCarthy . . . I will give him the courtesy of an interview to get his sentiment, his approach, his philosophy about how to make neighborhoods safe, but the ultimate responsibility lies in the mayor of Chicago,” Garcia said.

Garcia blamed the number of unsolved murders on police understaffing. More police on the streets would get the murder and shooting rates down, he said.

McCarthy, meanwhile, emphasized in a phone interview the importance of getting illegal guns off the street, noting that Chicago got more of them off the street than New York and Los Angeles combined. Police have recovered more than 1,500 illegal guns this year — a 22 percent increase compared to 2014 — and arrests for illegal gun possession are up about 39 percent compared to last year.

“The way you stop shootings is to arrest people with guns,” McCarthy said. “I think that what we have been doing has been working really well. We need backup from the rest of the system.”

McCarthy said the strategies have worked the past two years to reach record low murder totals, and the department will continue to “constantly refine our strategies.”

Overall crime is down 40 percent over the past four years, he said. This year, burglary is down 16 percent, theft is down 7 percent and robbery, which McCarthy called a “bellwether crime,” is down 4 percent compared to the same time last year.

After an unusually violent 2012, homicides fell by about half in the first three months of 2013. And the following year in the first quarter, they continued to fall; the 62 killings in the first three months of 2014 were the fewest since 1958 for that time period.

This year’s numbers include at least five double homicides. The Cook County medical examiner reported 83 homicides in the first three months of the year — a majority of them on the South and West sides. Austin had the most killings — seven — of Chicago’s 77 designated neighborhoods. Roseland was next, with five.

Last fall, Emanuel asked reluctant state lawmakers to soften Illinois’ war on drugs to let nonviolent offenders off the hook and free police officers to focus on more serious crimes.

Emanuel wanted the General Assembly to go beyond what he did in Chicago — with disappointing results — by decriminalizing possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana and reducing from a felony to a misdemeanor the penalty for possession of one gram or less of any controlled substance.

The mayor’s plan went nowhere. Skeptical lawmakers questioned the mayor’s motives for proposing the dramatic change in the way drug offenses are prosecuted.

Some viewed it as a political ploy tailor-made to resurrect his plan to impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes shot down by the Legislature’s Black Caucus.

Others characterized it as yet another maneuver to appease black voters and undercut the progressive base of his strongest challengers — no different than Emanuel’s recent proposals to raise the minimum wage and champion immigration reform and affordable housing.

On Wednesday, when Emanuel accepted the endorsement of some members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, that group included one of those outspoken former critics: State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago).

Apparently referring to the drive for tougher gun laws and more lenient penalties against minor drug offenses, the mayor said: “This gets to why having a forceful voice in Springfield and a coordinated voice between the mayor and the legislative leaders” is so important.

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