Chicago’s extreme gun violence—762 homicides last year and more than 4,000 people wounded—has been described as an epidemic. Primarily gang-related, the shootings are often spontaneous and unpredictable, and the toll on victims, families, and entire communities cannot be overstated. That’s why the FBI’s Chicago Division, working with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and other agencies, has undertaken significant measures to address the problem.
The FBI released a report about how they are working in this city to combat the violence that appears concentrated in rough patches on the South and West Sides.
“The FBI sometimes battles a perception that we are only interested in terrorism or public corruption or large drug-trafficking organizations,” said Michael Anderson, special agent in charge of the Chicago Division, in the report. “The fact is, we are interested in those things, but in Chicago we are also getting down to the street level to address violent crime, and we are specifically going after the trigger-pullers and shot-callers.”
That street-level focus is in response to a city homicide rate that has “increased exponentially,” Anderson said. “The number of shootings is at a level that hasn’t been seen here since the early 1990s.” As a result, he explained, “what you are seeing and will continue to see in Chicago is a sustained FBI effort to support and supplement our local partners.”
The FBI said they created a homicide task force last year in which agents work with police detectives to solve murder cases, increase intelligence-gathering efforts to identify shooters and step up community-outreach efforts to gain the public’s trust and enlist their help in solving crimes.
However, trust between black communities and the police are at an all-time low as many do not trust the men and women in blue or feel they are part of the problem. Arrests have been down as well, because the police feel they have been targeted for the problems.
Many social organizations question if more policing is a better thing. Some have called for an elected police board to oversee the cops.
CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he is happy to team up with the FBI because they have more resources. He also blamed the state’s gun laws for the rise in city homicides.
Police say social media is a great contributor to the city violence. When someone disses another on Facebook or Instagram, they immediately seek revenge with more and more sophisticated weaponry.
The FBI and CPD investigators have focused considerable effort on two of the city’s most historically violent areas—the 11th District on the West Side and the 7th District on the South Side.
“Since we put the task force in place,” Johnson said, “we’ve seen significant drops in gun violence in these two districts. We are making some real positive gains.”
While shootings and murders are down from last year, Chicago is still a very violent city. Many would say a lack of jobs and a sense of hopelessness contribute more to the escalating violence.
Gang-related homicides in Chicago are most easily solved when witnesses come forward. But in the city’s violent neighborhoods, many who witness shootings or have information don’t cooperate with law enforcement, either because they distrust the police or they want to engage in “frontier justice” and seek their own retaliation, the FBI’s Anderson said.
“So we are putting a lot of resources into community outreach,” he said. “We are really focusing on going out in the community and building trust. If folks trust law enforcement, they are more likely to report crimes.”
By Jim Vail