After 110 Shot In Chicago, The Top Cop Blames Gangs, Guns, Drugs And ‘Not Enough Time Spent In Jail’

photo of Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown speaks at a press conference on May 22, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
photo of Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown speaks at a press conference on May 22, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

After 110 Shot In Chicago, The Top Cop Blames Gangs, Guns, Drugs And ‘Not Enough Time Spent In Jail’

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After his first weekend with a triple-digit shooting tally since taking over as Chicago’s top cop, Supt. David Brown resorted to traditional Police Department talking points and tried to shift blame for the violence to other parts of the criminal-justice system.

But Brown, at a news conference Monday afternoon, also made it clear he does not want to turn back the clock on police cooperation with street outreach workers — many of them formerly imprisoned gang members — that Mayor Lori Lightfoot is counting on to make a dent in the city’s chronic gun violence.

“I’m encouraged that other parts will step up and help,” Brown said. “I just know this — police can’t do it alone — that we need partners to be effective at protecting this city.”

A WBEZ count of CPD reports shows 110 shooting victims, at least 13 of whom have died, in Chicago gun violence from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. The shooting was spread out over the weekend — unlike a burst of violence during May 31 looting that killed 15 people in one day, setting a modern record for the city.

Asked what caused the most recent shooting flareup, Brown seemed to echo superintendents from the past: “Gangs, guns and drugs and not enough time spent in jail for violent felonies.”

Philip Cline, who served as superintendent from 2003 to 2007, frequently said Chicago’s high murder numbers could be explained by “gangs, guns and drugs.”

Garry McCarthy, the superintendent from 2011 to 2015, and his successor Eddie Johnson both repeatedly went before TV cameras and blamed shooting increases on short prison sentences for gun crimes.

Brown, however, focused on the jail.

“Our cops are working hard,” Brown said. “There are too many violent offenders not in jail or on electronic monitoring, which no one is really monitoring.”

“Our endgame strategy is to arrest violent felons but, if violent felons are getting right out of jail, we need cooperation and collaboration with other partners within the justice system,” the superintendent said.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, which runs the jail and the electronic monitoring program, sent a statement that says the program has grown by roughly 1,000 individuals since the pandemic’s start.

“This increase took place without any additional staff or funding allocated to EM, as emergency staffing efforts were focused in the Cook County Department of Corrections,” the statement says.

Pat Milhizer, a spokesman for Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office, questioned Brown’s effort to link electronic monitoring to “allegations of criminal activity” over the weekend.

“If this is a discussion about resources for pretrial programs, Chief Judge Evans welcomes ideas to strengthen services for those who qualify for release while their cases are pending and they are presumed innocent,” Milhizer said in a statement.

During his news conference, Brown also rejected a notion popular with University of Chicago criminologists who work closely with the police department. He said the violence cannot be blamed on easy access to guns.

“I’m from Texas,” Brown said, noting that state’s high number of firearms. “Houston, San Antonio and Dallas have lower murder rates.”

He said that shows it would be possible for Chicago to tamp down its infamous gun violence.

The key, Brown said, is building a public safety infrastructure that combines policing, street outreach work and investments in poor neighborhoods. He said that collaboration is just getting off the ground and is “obviously not mature.”

Brown also repeatedly praised rank-and-file officers for their work ethic after rubbing many the wrong way when he and Lightfoot accused a group of cops of loafing during Chicago looting that followed George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police.

Brown also called it “completely unacceptable” that the weekend’s homicide victims included a 3-year-old, Mekhi James.

The boy, shot in the city’s Austin neighborhood, was among five minors killed during the weekend, a number that departs from a decades-old trend in which children account for a smaller and smaller percentage of Chicago’s gun violence victims, according to a WBEZ analysis of Cook County Medical Examiner’s data.

Before this weekend, Chicago’s 297 homicide victims this year included 22 children (7.4%) under age 18. That percentage has been falling since 1993, when 18.4% of the city’s homicide victims were minors.

Speaking at a separate news conference Monday afternoon, Lightfoot voiced support for Brown and excoriated a reporter for asking whether she might replace him due to the violence.

“Superintendent Brown has been here for eight weeks,” Lightfoot said. “He really understands the department well and I think he’s going to end up being one of the best superintendents in the history of the department.”

Lightfoot also defended a Brown goal, upon his arrival, to keep the city’s homicides for the year under 300, a number now expected to be surpassed within days.

“He called it a moonshot,” the mayor said. “The idea was, not so much the number, but making sure that we rallied all the resources, both within the Police Department, but also with our various partners, to really focus on what each of us could to do more around public safety.”

Lightfoot said it’s harder than usual for cops to stem violence because the pandemic has taken some federal agents out of that effort and because county officials are trying to limit jail inmate numbers to curb the virus’s spread there, which has led to more people getting released after arrest.

“We still have some concern on the part of the county about how many people can safely be in Cook County Jail,” she said. “We still have some concern about bond decisions.”

Lightfoot called the city’s public safety “a big ecosystem” with “lots of different inputs and partners.”

“The challenge that we have faced is, while the Chicago Police Department has been out there, many other parts of the system have not been up to full complement.”

Lightfoot said she would convene a meeting this week with representatives of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the criminal courts “to talk about things each of us can do to step up to stem the violence that we saw this weekend.”

Chip Mitchell and Patrick Smith report on criminal justice for WBEZ. Politics reporter Claudia Morell contributed. Follow them at @ChipMitchell1, @pksmid and @claudiamorell.