Lori Lightfoot urged Chicago police to close out 2019 with fewer than 500 murders

The mayor asked top police officials what they could do to keep the city’s yearly total below that mark. CPD says that number was 492 on Tuesday morning.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Nov. 8 introducing former Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck as Chicago’s interim police superintendent.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot introducing former Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck on Nov. 8 as Chicago’s interim police superintendent.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

When Mayor Lori Lightfoot met with top Chicago Police Department officials a week ago, she had a number in mind: 500.

Lightfoot pressed the police brass on what they intended to do to keep the 2019 body count in Chicago below 500, police sources say.

As of Tuesday evening, the police department’s murder count for the year was 492. Officials say they’re hopeful that total won’t surpass 500 by the time the new year begins at midnight.

The 2019 murder total is expected to be the lowest since 2015.

The mayor, elected in April, could get a symbolic victory in a year when she butted heads with President Donald Trump over what he called Chicago’s “crime wave.”

“We’ve been looking at this 500 number for a while,” said Anthony Guglielmi, chief police spokesman. “The police department has been working since 2016 to get violence back to what it was before that year. We are nowhere near where we want to be as a city.”

The department is putting more than 1,300 extra officers on the streets Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to stem holiday violence, Guglielmi said.

Over the past week, the department has conducted its annual end-of-year mission to round up gun and drug suspects. Officers focused this year on an area in Englewood where 13 people were shot and wounded at a house party Dec. 22.More than 100 people have been arrested in the operation, according to Guglielmi.

A mass shooting Dec. 22 in the 5700 block of South May Street in Englewood left 13 wounded. 

A mass shooting Dec. 22 in the 5700 block of South May Street in Englewood left 13 wounded.

Rachel Hinton / Sun-Times

As in other recent years, Chicago has been in the national spotlight for its crime problems in 2019 thanks to the president, who tweeted in November that “Chicago will never stop its crime wave” as long as then-police Supt. Eddie Johnson was in charge.

Lightfoot defended Johnson then, tweeting back, “The crime wave you should be concerned about is the one you are perpetrating against the American people in the White House.”

Crime in Chicago actually has receded in recent years. The police department says there were 490 murders in 2015, 778 in 2016, 658 in 2017 and 567 in 2018.

The department’s murder statistics don’t include every killing in the city, though. Killings on expressways, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Illinois State Police, aren’t counted in the Chicago police totals. Neither are killings found to be in self-defense nor those in which police officers used deadly force.

The number of murders had spiked in Chicago in early 2016 after the Justice Department launched a civil-rights investigation into the police department after the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired police Supt. Garry McCarthy in late 2015 in the wake of the McDonald scandal, and Van Dyke ultimately was convicted of second-degree murder and sent to prison.

Johnson, who succeeded McCarthy in early 2016, was fired by Lightfoot a month ago in a scandal of his own. The mayor said he lied to her about an October incident in which he reportedly was found slumped over the wheel in his car near his Bridgeport home.

Sources later told the Chicago Sun-Times Johnson had been drinking with a woman on his security detail for three hours in a downtown restaurant and was seen on a security video kissing her. City Hall’s inspector general is investigating.

Lightfoot named Charlie Beck, former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, as the interim police superintendent.

Despite the ignominious end to Johnson’s 31-year police career, he’s credited with shepherding the department through the Justice Department investigation and as the numbers of shootings and killings in Chicago fell.

Earlier this year, Johnson attributed the drop in violence in part to data centers the police have installed in stations across Chicago.These strategic decision support centers —financed in part by a $10 million donation from hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin —feed real-time crime information to officers on their work-issued smartphones.

University of Chicago Crime Lab researchers work alongside police officers to analyze information from gunshot sensors, surveillance cameras and gang intelligence gathered by the cops, running the data through a computer program called ShotSpotter Mission to figure out where to deploy officers.

Police officers in the Englewood district’s strategic decision support center in January 2018.

Police officers in the Englewood district’s strategic decision support center in January 2018.

James Foster / Sun-Times

“After 2016, the police department took a hard look at ourselves and pressed the reset button,” Guglielmi said.

He said Johnson had traveled to New York, Los Angeles and Baltimore to look at “best practices.”

The Los Angeles trip led to the creation of a strategic decision support center in the Englewood police district. Violent crime fell in Englewood, prompting Emanuel to expand the data centers to other parts of the city.

Johnson’s trips also resulted in the creation of a new community-policing program that was piloted in the Grand Central District on the Northwest Side. That program, deemed successful, is being expanded to the Austin police district on the West Side, Guglielmi said.

In her regular meetings with the police, Lightfoot has focused on anti-gang strategies and also on how other things the city can do, like providing improved street lighting, might help reduce crime, Guglielmi said.

“She’s bringing in all the city services to fight crime,” he said.

Though the number of murders in Chicago has dropped, New York and Los Angeles have continued to see even lower numbers.New York City recorded 311 murders through mid-December, and Los Angeles had 252 murders through late December, according to their statistics.

In Chicago,16of the city’s 22 police districts saw murders go down in 2019. That included Englewood, historically one of the city’s most violent districts. As of Tuesday evening, there were44killings in that South Side district in 2019 compared with54in 2018, according to the police department.

But in Jefferson Park, usually one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, the number of murders has more than quadrupled — fromtwo in 2018 to eight in 2019.That Northwest Side police district is home to many city workers, including cops and firefighters.

Citywide, the number of people shot — either killed or wounded —fell from 2,831 in 2018 to 2,604 in 2019, an 8% drop, according to the police department.

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