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Lessons from Chicago’s Recent Increase in Violent Crime

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By Dr. Nicole Cain, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

The city of Chicago is experiencing a dramatic upsurge in violent crime and growing community distrust of city leadership and law enforcement. There are several dynamics contributing to the current climate in Chicago.

Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States with a population of approximately 2.6 million racially diverse citizens who are led by diverse leaders.

According to the Chicago Police Department (CPD), homicides and shooting incidents increased during the first seven months of 2020 from 290 homicides and 1,480 shootings in 2019 to 440 homicides and 2,240 shooting incidents this year.

Cook County State’s Attorney Dismissed More Felony Cases Than Her Predecessor

Kim Foxx was elected Cook County State’s Attorney in November 2016. A review of case disposition data by the Chicago Tribune revealed that during Foxx’s first three years, her office dismissed all charges against 29.9 percent of felony defendants compared with her predecessor’s dismissal rate of 19.4 percent.

Foxx defended the statistic by explaining that cases against nonviolent offenders were dismissed so that her office could commit more resources to violent offenders. Yet, according to a Tribune analysis of about 287,000 defendants’ criminal cases, Foxx dismissed cases involving violent offenses, like homicide, aggravated battery on a police officer, sex crimes, and aggravated battery with a firearm at higher rates than her predecessor, Anita Alvarez.

Foxx’s overall conviction rate was 66 percent, or 9 percent lower than Alvarez’s.

Mistrust of the police is the primary reason why tensions are high between the community and the police. Recent looting and rioting, the increase in violent crime, and calls to defund the police only amplify those tensions.

Case in Point: Police Shooting of Latrell Allen

According to the Tribune, on August 9, police officers responded to a call in the Englewood neighborhood about a man carrying a firearm. The responding officers were part of the Community Safety Team, which was created to combat the increase in violent crime.

[Related: Diversity in Police Force Hiring Promotes Community Trust]

The officers located 20-year-old Latrell Allen and attempted to stop him. As Allen fled, the officers pursued him. Allen shot at them and they returned fire, hitting him five times. A firearm was recovered from the scene. Allen was transported to the Chicago Medical Center and was charged with two counts of attempted murder and unlawful use of a weapon.

The responding officers were part of the Community Safety Team (CST), which was created to work with communities to combat the increase in violent crime. Incidents of police officers involved shootings are investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, an independent agency within the city. Unfortunately, the officers were not equipped with body cameras.

Looting and Rioting in Downtown Chicago

Rumors promulgated on social media suggesting that the police had killed an unarmed 15-year-old boy further intensified an already strained relationship with the community.

The looting and rioting that ensued caused at least $60 million in property damage and injured 13 police officers. Police arrested 100 people for various crimes. As a result of the arrests, the Cook County State Attorney’s office approved 42 felony charges.

[Related: Politicizing Policing Will Not Foster Safer Communities]

During the press conference about the incident, Police Superintendent David Brown explained that officers had received intelligence information that large groups of people were converging on the downtown area of Chicago with plans to loot businesses. That prompting the CPD to saturate the area with 400 officers.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Brown expressed their concerns that the criminal justice system was failing by not holding offenders accountable for their actions. They noted that the State Attorney’s Office had failed to file charges on arrests made during the previous riots in May and June. Lightfoot suggested that there should be a sense of urgency in prosecuting these offenders.

As Brown stated, “These looters, these thieves, these criminals are emboldened by no consequences in the criminal system. They get released, many charges get dropped, and so they feel emboldened to do it more.”

CPD, City Leaders, and State’s Attorney Must Work Together to Reduce Crime

Lightfoot and Brown are working together to reduce violent crime and prevent further looting, which is an encouraging sign of progress in Chicago. For example, last month Lightfoot permitted the CPD to work with federal agents in Operation Legend to reduce gun-related crime. And currently the CPD has joined forces with the FBI to investigate the recent cases of looting.

To prevent future looting, the CPD designated a unit within the Crime Prevention and Information Center to monitor all open source social media information 24 hours-a-day. As Lightfoot explained, “As we’ve seen over these past few months, social media platforms have repeatedly been used to organize large groups of people to engage in illegal activity.”

[Related: A Profession in Crisis: Proactively Recruiting in Schools and Minority Communities]

Furthermore, Foxx expressed her commitment to teamwork. “I am committed to keeping our communities safe and continuing to collaborate with our law enforcement partners to demand accountability and seek justice for the people of Cook County,” she said.

A Failure of Leadership to Provide Body Cameras

After the police shooting of Allen, the public wanted to know why the officers were not wearing body cameras. The CPD equips its patrol officers with them, but not the officers assigned to the newly formed CST. Yet, the team was created to lessen violent crime by partnering with the community, working with community policing officers, and supplementing patrol operations.

The lack of video footage to support or challenge the officers’ account immediately drew skepticism. Footage from the officers’ point of view would have provided transparency and just might have satisfied most skeptics.

CPD leaders knowingly placed their officers in a compromising situation by not properly equipping them to do their job. They created the opportunity that allowed activists and the media to question the officers’ integrity; furthermore, they provided a narrative for calls to loot and riot. These officers — tasked with restoring good relations with community members — should have been properly prepared to serve.

The swiftest and most efficient way to lessen mistrust and gain transparency and legitimacy is to equip every police officer who is on duty with a body camera.

The legitimacy of policing is incumbent upon community support. The public’s perception of the rightfulness of police conduct affects legitimacy; The more legitimacy the police possess from the community the more effective they are at achieving their goal of crime reduction.

ChicagoAbout the Author: Dr. Nicole Cain is an Assistant Professor with American Military University and has instructed numerous criminology and forensic courses online for more than 14 years. She recently earned her Ed. D. in Organizational Leadership from Southeastern University. Nicole has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience serving in a variety of capacities to include patrol operations, uniform crime scene, community-oriented policing (COP), and criminal investigations.

Nicole is currently assigned to the Criminal Investigations Section’s Felony Intake Office where she prepares all felony cases for the State Attorney’s Office. During her career in law enforcement, she has authored police reports, arrest affidavits and search warrants, observed autopsies, testified in court, processed crime scenes, interviewed witnesses, and conducted interrogations.

Dr. Nicole Cain is faculty at AMU. She has 20+ years of law enforcement experience as patrol operations, uniform crime scene, COP, and criminal investigations. She is currently assigned to the Criminal Investigations Section’s Felony Intake Office and prepares all felony cases for the State Attorney’s Office. She recently earned her Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership.

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