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Murder in Chicago: Politicians Tough on Guns, Weak on Criminal Prosecution

August 11th, 2015 1 comment
A Chicago police officer collects evidence at a crime scene where a man was shot in the city. (Reuters, July 5, 2015. Source: Washington News Daily.)

A Chicago police officer collects evidence at a crime scene where a man was shot in the city. (Reuters, July 5, 2015. Source: Washington News Daily.)

Murder in Chicago:

Politicians Tough on Guns, Weak on Criminal Prosecution

original academic report written by Net Advisor

Background: Original academic paper written July 14, 2015 for a Criminal Justice course taught by a former Police Chief. The paper has been modified from the print APA style version to include our sourcing format providing instant links to data cited. Additional information including sub-headings, numbered reference [brackets], and a photo have been added for our on-line media format.


Chicago leads the nation in homicides. In 2012, more people were killed in Chicago than American troops killed in Afghanistan. Reportedly, there are over 100,000 gang members in Chicago, far outnumbering Chicago’s 200 police gang unit. Chicago’s high homicide rate led to strict gun control legislation which has been ongoing since the late 1960’s. In 2008, and again in 2014, both the U.S. Supreme Court and separately a lower court ruled that Chicago’s gun bans are unconstitutional. The gun control measures have not been shown to reduce homicides, but rather more funding for policing have shown to reduce homicides in Chicago. Once police have done their job in taking violent offenders off the street, Chicago politicians and the local criminal justice system seem to place favor toward the criminals. There appears to be a serious lack of prosecution in Chicago’s Criminal Justice System. With sub-par prosecution rates, criminals have little incentive to stop committing crimes including homicide.

[1] Chicago: More Dangerous Than Afghanistan?

Chicago has the highest homicide (murder) rate in the United States (F.B.I., 2011-2012, 2013), (Sanburn, 2014). There were some 506 murders in Chicago in 2012 (Terrell, 2012). In fact, more Americans were killed in Chicago in 2012 than Americans killed in Afghanistan (Bevin, 2013).

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has said that the United States has some ‘9,000’ existing federal gun laws on the books (Wallace, 2013). Chicago is known to have amongst the strongest restrictions for firearms ownership and use in the USA (Miller, 2013). Homicides in Chicago have remained high despite their strict gun control laws (Peterson, 2013).

[2] Gangs in Chicago

Chicago is home to some 100,000 gang members who reportedly commit seventy-five to eighty percent of the city’s homicides (Reynolds, 2012). Previously, Chicago had committed only 200 police officers to deal with these gang members.

“Sgt. Matt Little leads one of the teams in Chicago’s Gang Enforcement Unit. There are about 200 such officers in the city — versus 100,000 gang members…Almost all the violence we’re seeing now is from the gangs,”

— Sgt. Matt Little (Reynolds, 2012).

The gangs seem to have their own multiculturalism, where many have generally rejected society’s social norms. Chicago’s homicides are not representative to the rest of the USA.

[3] Firearms Involved In Just 9% of Crimes in USA – DOJ

For the U.S. as a country, a 2010 Department of Justice (DOJ) report found that sixty-nine percent of all violent crimes in the USA did NOT involve any form of a weapon. In fact, the DOJ found that violent crimes that involved a firearm represented only nine percent of violent crimes. The report also found that violent crime from 1993 to 2010 was not random. The DOJ said roughly seventy-seven percent of the offenders knew their victims (Truman, 2011).

There seems to be little to no national discussion about getting tough on felons, keeping felons in prison, building or expanding prisons, or the value in supporting law enforcement to help fight crime.

[4] Illinois Abolishes the Death Penalty

In fact, the state of Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011. So if someone commits murder in Illinois, the political leaders have opted to insure the criminal will be protected from the death penalty. Illinois governor Pat Quinn (D), also commuted the sentences of all fifteen remaining inmates on Illinois’ death row (Corley, 2011).

Even though a trial court of their peers concluded that certain felons should be sentenced to death for their heinous crimes, the Illinois governor decided to just keep them in prison for life. This move could cost Illinois taxpayers $38,268 per year, per prisoner (Henrichson and Delaney, 2012).

[5] Chicago’s Lack of Prison Housing

One of the problems in Chicago is that there is a lack of prison housing. Even if convicted of a gun-related crime, there just isn’t enough room to house the current 10,000 inmates. As a result, felons get reduced sentences and are back out on the streets to re-offend the public again (Reynolds, 2013).

[6] Chicago, Amongst Lowest Prosecution Rate for Gun-related Crimes

Chicago seems to have a lack of willingness to prosecution crime. In 2012, Former NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller told CBS News, “In Chicago, you’ve got a 50-50 chance that you’re not going to do any jail time…(and)…33 percent of those cases are dismissed outright” (Reynolds, 2013). Miller’s statements may not be too far off from reality.

“In Chicago, you’ve got a 50-50 chance that you’re not going to do any jail time…(and)…33 percent of those cases are dismissed outright.”

— says John Miller, a former NYPD Deputy Commissioner. (Source: CBS News/ Reynolds, 2013)

Syracuse University compiles U.S. Department of Justice data from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse or “TRAC” that includes “comprehensive, independent and nonpartisan information about federal enforcement, staffing and spending” (Syracuse University, 2015). The data suggests prosecution for gun-related crimes have been on the decline since 2004.

When it comes to prosecuting crimes committed with firearms, Chicago ranked eighty out of eighty-seven regions in 2011. Los Angeles ranked eighty-third, and San Francisco ranked dead last at eighty-seven – the lowest prosecution rate for gun-related crimes (Syracuse University, 2011). As of June 2015, Syracuse University noted there were only forty-eight weapons convictions in the Northern District of Illinois which includes both Chicago and Rockford, Illinois (Ballotpedia, 2014). Gun control seems to be Chicago’s focus.

[7] Chicago’s Gun Control Plan: 48 Years Old, Still Failing

Since about 1967, Chicago’s political leadership has pushed and passes various gun control measures. By 1981, America’s first municipality passed local legislation that included banning the sale, transfer and ownership of firearms in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove (Clark, 2014).

The apparent thinking was that banning firearms would reduce crime. Restricting or banning firearms wasn’t the problem. Chicago then began to implement police strategies that were found to reduce homicide rates in Los Angeles and New York. Then in 2004, roughly 18,000 prisoners completed their criminal sentence and returned to the streets of Chicago. At that time, ex-felons committed seventy-percent of Chicago’s homicides (Heinzmann and Huppke, 2004).

[8] Closing Prisons?

Instead of building or expanding the prison system to house especially violent felons, Chicago’s political leaders choose to close prisons to help shore up the city’s $9 billion of debt (Reynolds, 2013). Chicago’s increasing gun control-related laws didn’t reduce crime, but it did infringe on citizens’ Constitutional rights.

[9] Chicago’s Gun Control Policy Deemed ‘Unconstitutional’ – SCOTUS

On June 28, 2010, a landmark decision in McDonald v. Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) held that Chicago’s gun ban was “Unconstitutional;” that individuals have the right to “keep and bear arms,” and such rights applies to the individual states. Despite the 2010 ruling, the political leadership in Chicago continues to try and bypass the U.S. Constitution, circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court and tried to ban most sales and transfers of firearms again. This new Chicago law was also ruled “Unconstitutional” by U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang (Ford, 2014).

[10] More Policing Decreases Homicide Rate – Study

Chicago’s homicide rate has dropped since 2012. By 2014, Chicago had ‘only’ 435 homicides (Swartz, et al.). Chicago city officials credit the decline in homicides due to a massive increase in ‘police strategies,’ that include ‘targeting violent street gangs’ who represent ‘the vast majority’ of Chicago’s gun crimes (Babwin, 2014). City officials also noted approximately $100 million was paid to law-enforcement for overtime work (Babwin, 2014).

Crime in Chicago can be broken down into Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political or the “S.T.E.E.P.” model. Crime impacts local communities socially (psychologically) subjecting citizens’ exposure to high crime and violence. The impact is also felt economically, however it seems the recent increased investment in law-enforcement is not being matched with the cost needs for prosecution or prisoner housing. A Rand Corporation study found that the negative impact to the local Chicago economy was estimated at $144.6 billion just in 2006 (Heaton, 2010).

Living in an environment where violence seems to be the norm, questions whether there is real political will to effectively address the high crime and homicides in Chicago.

[11] Chicago: 62 People Killed Under Age 18 in 2014

The problem is, innocent and young people are caught up in the crossfire. In 2014, 236 people were killed in Chicago who were under the age of twenty-five; and of that, sixty-two people were under the age of eighteen. (Swartz et al, 2014).

The issue of high homicides in Chicago is discussed nationally and politically. However, homicides in Chicago seem more of an afterthought in the national debate compared to a small number of single cases involving law-enforcement and use of force in cities such as Baltimore (Shoichet, 2015), Ferguson (DOJ, 2015), and New York (Moyer et al, 2014).

[12] Discussion: Chicago Same Political Party in Power Since 1931 (84 years)

The decades of leadership over crime in Chicago seems disconcerting. Members of their community should put pressure on political leaders (the mayor/ city council) and officers of the court (prosecutors and judges). The people are free to elect new officials who actually support both public safety and fiscal responsibility in government.

The people of Chicago need officials who are committed to review the city’s problems, learn what worked (investing in more policing), and what didn’t work (early release, low prosecution rates, and closing prisons). The data does not show that the people are better off or safer with closing prisons. Despite the problems, Chicago seems to keep the status quo.

Since 1931, the people of Chicago have voted to maintain the same political party in power (Mayor of Chicago, 2015). Until the people and its leaders decide to actually work to solve problems, Chicago will likely maintain its legacy as a high crime, and high homicide city.

[13] Limitations: Cost Benefit Summary of Increased Policing.

There is a cost to crime fighting as noted on page 6 of this report, that ‘approximately $100 million was paid to law-enforcement for overtime work’ (Babwin, 2014). However, this cost is trivial compared to the potential $100 billion plus in local economic recovery that could be seized (Heaton, 2010). Assuming Heaton’s economic analysis is correct, this greater investment in law-enforcement could also reduce or eliminate Chicago’s $9 billion of debt (Reynolds, 2013).

[14] Conclusions

Homicide in Chicago continues to rank at the top of U.S. cities. City officials have passed legislation over nearly fifty years for more gun control, and gun ownership restrictions. Some of these gun-control laws were deemed “unconstitutional,” including by the U.S. Supreme Court. When politicians decided to stop shuffling paper by creating new gun regulations and focused on investing in more law-enforcement, the homicide rate began to decline until 2004, then again in 2012.

Perhaps part of this decline can also be attributed to criminal gangs killing each other, thus reducing the number of felons on the street. Police can only do their part to take criminals off the street. Chicago’s criminal prosecution is very low, and politicians are closing prisons, reducing criminal sentences now in order to reduce the city’s $9 billion of debt. Research data has shown that Chicago’s high crime is also negatively impacting the local economy by over $144 billion in just 2006. Socially, citizens are also subject to witnessing or reading about the regular killings that occur in the city.

Clearly, Chicago needs to get their fiscal house in order, focus on more policing, address prison housing, and be more aggressive in prosecution of especially violent felons. Investing in law-enforcement, re-opening or building new prisons seems to be an investment that could produce a positive impact on the local economy. Right now, criminals have little to no incentive to be deterred from committing homicide or other crimes in Chicago. The people will have to decide whether their elected leaders are providing them with the type of community they want. The people of Chicago have maintained the status quo for eighty-four years.

References  _________________________________________________________

Babwin, D. (2014, January 01). Chicago Homicides Down Drastically in 2013 to Fewest Murders Since 1965, Police Say. Huffington Post. Retrieved January 2, 2014.

Ballotpedia. (2014, December 16). United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Lucy Burns Institute. Retrieved July 11, 2015.

Bevin, T. (2013, January 18). Mr. President, Chicago’s gun Victims need You Now. Real Clear Politics. Retrieved January 28, 2013.

Clark, M. (2014, January 07). A Short History of Chicago’s Battles with the Courts over Gun Control. International Business Times. Retrieved July 5, 2015.

Corley, C. (2011, March 09). Illinois Abolishes The Death Penalty. NPR and Associated Press. Retrieved July 5, 2015.

DOJ (2015, March 04). Memorandum. Department of Justice Report Regarding the Criminal Investigation into the Shooting Death of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson. U.S. Dept. of Justice. Retrieved July 11, 2015.

F.B.I. (2013, June). Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report. U.S. Dept. of Justice. Retrieved July, 11, 2015.

F.B.I. (2011-2012). Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report. U.S. Dept. of Justice. Retrieved July, 11, 2015.

Ford, D. (2014, February 26). Judge Rules Chicago Gun Ban is Unconstitutional. CNN. Retrieved July 3, 2015.

Heaton, P. (2010). Issues in Policing. Hidden in Plain Sight: What Costs-of-Crime Research Can Tell Us About Investing in Police. Rand Corporation. p.6. Retrieved June 28, 2015.

Heinzmann, D. and Huppke, R. (2004, December 19). City Murder Toll Lowest in Decades. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 11, 2015.

Henrichson, C., and Delaney, R. (2012, February 29). The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers, (Illinois). Vera Institute of Justice. Retrieved July 3, 2015. {Further reading}

Mayor of Chicago. (2015, July 12). en.Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 13, 2015.

McDonald v. Chicago, 567 F. 3d 856 (2010). Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved July 3, 2015.

Miller, E. (2013, February 19). Chicago Shows That More Gun Laws Lead to More Crime. Washington Times. Retrieved July 11, 2015.

Moyer, J., Ohlheiser, A., Izadi, E. (2014, December 04). Protests in Support of Eric Garner Erupt in New York and Elsewhere. Washington Post. Retrieved July 12, 2015.

Peterson, H. (2012, February 19). Chicago’s Top Cop Blames Gun Laws for City’s Soaring Homicide Rate – Even Though it Has Some of the Tightest Firearm Regulations in the Country. Daily Mail.UK. Retrieved July, 1, 2015.–tightest-firearm-regulations-country.html

Reynolds, D. (2013, February 16). Chicago Calls for Tougher Gun Laws, But Has No Room For More Prisoners. CBS News. Retrieved July 3, 2015.

Reynolds, D. (2012, July 11). Chicago Police Sergeant Tribal Warfare on the Streets. CBS News. Retrieved January 31, 2013.

Sanburn, J. (2014, January 02). Murders in U.S. Cities Reach Record Lows Again. Time. Retrieved July, 1, 2015.

Shoichet, C. (2015, May 21). Freddie Gray Death: Grand Jury Indicts Police Officers. CNN. Retrieved July 12, 2015.

Swartz, T., Schwencke, K., Mark, R., Groskoph, C. Germuska, J., Boyer, B. (2014, December 31). Project Red Eye: Tracking Homicides in Chicago. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 5, 2015.

Syracuse University. (2015, June). TRAC Reports. (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse). Home Web Page. Retrieved July 11, 2015.

Syracuse University. (2015, May). Northern Illinois Weapons Convictions for May 2015 (Fiscal Year-to-Date). TRAC Reports, Inc. Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Retrieved July 2, 2015.

Syracuse University. (2011). Weapons Prosecutions Decline to Lowest Level in a Decade. TRAC Reports, Inc. (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse). Retrieved July 2, 2015.

Truman, J. (2011, September). Criminal Victimization, 2010. National Crime Victimization Survey, p. 8, table 4. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved July, 11, 2015.

Wallace, C. (2013, February 03). Capt. Mark Kelly, Wayne LaPierre on Chances for Compromise in Gun Control Debate. Fox News Sunday. Retrieved July, 7, 2015.


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