Chicago Police Say Repeat Gun Offenders Need To Be Held Accountable

Jan 7, 2017
Originally published on January 7, 2017 8:00 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Of course crime is a police matter, and the Chicago Police Department, though, has come under scrutiny. The Department of Justice is expected to release soon findings from an investigation into the Chicago Police Department which stems from the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald which was caught on tape. Another former Chicago police commissioner, Garry McCarthy, recently told the program "60 Minutes" that the department is in crisis and the city is in a, quote, "state of lawlessness," unquote.

We reached out to the city, and we were put in touch with Chicago's current police superintendent Eddie Johnson, as well as Lisa Morrison Butler. She is Chicago's commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services. They were both kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. I thank you both so much for joining us.

EDDIE JOHNSON: Thank you for having us today.

LISA MORRISON BUTLER: Thank you.

MARTIN: Superintendent Johnson, I'm going to start with you. You started serving as superintendent in April just eight months ago, but you've been around Chicago your whole life. You grew up there. Why is this happening?

JOHNSON: Chicago has a gun problem. That's where our violence stems from. To be honest, Chicago isn't out of control, but we have five police districts that are actually responsible for the majority of the increase in our gun violence this year. But I think one of the main factors that contribute to it is the fact that we do a terrible job of holding repeat gun offenders accountable for their crimes.

MARTIN: So it's guns.

JOHNSON: Yes.

MARTIN: Guns. Commissioner, what about you? What's your take on this?

BUTLER: I agree with my colleague. I don't think that we are that different from other major cities around the country. I do think we have captured the spotlight and the attention of the nation, and that's fair. But at the same time, as the superintendent suggested, this is not an easy solution, if you will. There's not just one thing that's wrong here, but I do think that the proliferation of guns in Chicago and some of the challenges we have holding repeat gun offenders accountable contributes greatly to the problems that we have.

MARTIN: Agreed. I mean, I think that no one is saying that this is only Chicago's problem, but it does stand out when you note that in 2016, Chicago had more murders than Los Angeles and New York combined which are both large cities, which both have - they have the problems that large cities have. And so when you see a statistic like that, it naturally stands out. Is there something unique about Chicago?

JOHNSON: The violence in Chicago is not just about what police are or are not doing. We have long-term issues. The economic support that we have to give these impoverished areas, the mental health treatment, better education, better housing - all of that stuff matters. You know, the police is just one piece of it. And going back to the - what's the difference between New York and LA and Chicago - we do have double the murder rate that those two do combined. But we also take more guns off the street, more bad guys with guns off the street than both those departments together. And it's not because we're that much better than them, it's because the proliferation of handguns in Chicago is so much more.

MARTIN: And why is that? Is that geographic?

JOHNSON: We sit right in the middle of the country, so you have a lot of sources that put guns into this city. You know, a lot of cities across the country are experiencing that, but we recognize that we're taking the national spotlight because of the size of our city. You know, so it doesn't escape us that 762 homicides - that's a large number. And we don't plan on revisiting that number this year.

MARTIN: What can you say to citizens of Chicago - I mean, WBEZ reported this week that 41 children were wounded or killed in shootings last year. What can you say to them to say that 2017 is going to be a different year?

BUTLER: One of the things that I can say is that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that vulnerable, at-risk boys in 20 of our highest need communities will have the opportunity to have a relationship with a caring adult. And I can say that the University of Chicago's research would indicate that if they can have that relationship, that they are 45 percent less likely to themselves become a victim of violence. That's what I can say.

MARTIN: Superintendent, before I let you go, I do have to ask how is morale in the police department?

JOHNSON: I think morale is good. You know, despite what people think, you know - you look at the nationwide narrative and the rhetoric going around involving law enforcement, you would think that it would be very damaged. And don't get me wrong. The officers right now are very cautious about ensuring that they do their jobs correctly. But I tell you when it comes to morale, you look at what happened the other day when those beat officers found a young man wandering down the street. If they didn't care and if morale wasn't good, they didn't have to stop and investigate that to the extent that they did to find out what happened.

So I think that the majority of officers in Chicago want to go out there and do the job properly and respectfully and professionally. They just want to know if they make an honest mistake that we have their backs which we do and that the community has their backs. But in terms of morale, I would say it's pretty good right now.

MARTIN: That's Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, and Lisa Morrison Butler is the commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services in Chicago. They were both kind enough to speak to us today from Chicago. Commissioner, Superintendent, thank you both so much for speaking to us.

JOHNSON: Thank you for having us today.

BUTLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.