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Fight crime? Perhaps our crime fighters should stop fighting first.

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December 7, 2021

There are no easy answers when it comes to solving Chicago’s violent crime problems. That much is clear. Are there any answers at all? Few have appeared so far.

A particularly violent year in 2021 ended with no significant progress towards peace on the streets. And it doesn’t help that we go into the New Year with Chicago’s Mayor, the Cook County Attorney, and the Chief Justice of the Criminal Courts arguing over the guilty party.

It doesn’t look good for the officers. Their focus on finger pointing does nothing for people across town who just want the murders and shootings, and the car thefts and outrageous thefts, to stop.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Attorney Kim Foxx, and Chief Justice Tim Evans are making so little progress in part because they cannot overcome their differences and are just working to coordinate efforts to fix the mistakes.

Presumably, Lightfoot, Foxx, and Evans all want what people want: a safer city and a fairer criminal justice system. But their ego, their politics and their simple stubbornness stand in the way.

Lightfoot cites several reasons Chicago saw more than 800 homicides in 2021. But she’s been building a bullying pulpit in the past few weeks, hurling disdain over the pre-trial release and electronic surveillance of accused criminals through Cook County’s courts in an effort to reform judiciary by Evans that has Lightfoot as a leading cause of violence in of the city.

At a January 3 press conference, Lighftoot counted more than 1,700 people released with ankle shackles despite charges of murder, sex crimes, car theft, kidnapping and more. “Do you feel more confident knowing these numbers?” asked Lightfoot. “No sane person does that. I’m sorry, but murderers, rapists, people who abuse with guns shouldn’t take to the streets.”

Evans pushed back. Commenting on Lightfoot’s petition for a moratorium on the release of those charged with violent crimes, he said shackles were not the problem. And it would be unconstitutional, Evans argued, to deny people bail on the mere charges they face. And Evans previously provided data suggesting that the number of people being released early isn’t a material contributing factor to the recent crime wave.

Foxx has recently been spared the public disdain for Lightfoot. But Lightfoot has promoted a narrative that Foxx’s reluctance to bring charges, even after shootings and other crimes that terrorize neighborhoods, encourages criminals and encourages the increase in violence.

Foxx parries Lightfoot’s criticism by pointing to the Chicago Police Department. You can’t close nearly enough cases, Foxx believes, and without the cases she can’t charge people with crimes.

Lightfoot-Foxx’s exasperation flared up in October when they held dueling press conferences following a gang shootout in the Austin neighborhood. Lightfoot has blown the prosecutor’s refusal to bring crime charges in broad daylight videotaped and police witnessed – and specifically Foxx’s finding that those involved were “mutual fighters”.

An emotional Foxx countered, stating that the evidence just wasn’t there. She expanded her office’s approach to defense, directing reporters to the prosecutor’s online dashboard, a public data tool that shows Foxx’s attorneys approved nearly 75% of the crimes presented by Chicago police officers in the past year.

It goes back and forth. And that leaves the people in Chicago with little hope of a better result in the New Year. The dissonances tarnish the rosy picture these officials paint of their efforts to fight crime while reforming racial prejudice and other problems in the Chicago area’s criminal justice system.

Police Commissioner David Brown did just that at Lightfoot’s stormy press conference, saying he would get enough new detectives to significantly reduce the number of cases for each detective. Applications to join the police force are ongoing, which could help reduce overtime that is a burden on police officers. Federal agents will support the CPD’s efforts to seize illegal weapons. And one of Brown’s signature initiatives – “positive interactions” between police and community members – is set to more than double this year to 1.2 million, he said.

If this sounds like good intentions, but not nearly enough, you’re hearing it right. The rise in violence is greater than these measures, and there is little evidence that simply stepping up tactics that have not worked will solve the city’s crime problem. Worse, the chances of success are undermined by the fact that the city’s top security officials simply cannot get along.

Lightfoot, Evans, and Foxx each have their points, but they all need to step back from their disputes and coordinate their efforts for the common good.

Evans’ call for bail reform is rooted in a pursuit of justice, but it is difficult to accept a program in which 5% of those released have previously been identified as at risk for a new violent crime. Foxx needs to redouble its efforts to clarify its criminal complaint standards so police officers know what it takes to start a case. Brown’s police force needs to close more cases and faster, while continuing the progressive reforms the police chief cherishes and calling for a court-overseen decree of consent.

As for Lightfoot, her passion is sincere, but her aggressive approach backfires again. A productive middle ground with her public safety counterparts can be struck if only she can tone down her rhetoric and open her mind.

The year begins when the balance sheet of the crime statistics, which has risen sharply for two years in a row, is being rebuilt. Lightfoot, Foxx and Evans had their say. The time is long overdue to stop throwing brickbats, band together, and just get to work.

What we have here is a public policy poker game, and Lightfoot has cards to play. With a little careful analysis, including an open-minded examination of Bluhm’s claims, she can get this right.

The city has no good reason to act based on just a premonition and a prayer.

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