A new Chicago Tribune report reveals that Chicago Police fire a gun at someone roughly every five days, many starting with seemingly routine interactions.
Other findings: Over the last few years, four out of every five people shot at by the police were African-American men. On average, the officers who fire their weapons have had almost a decade of experience.
Chicago Tribune reporter Angela Caputo has been covering these stories as part of an investigation into Chicago’s police involved shootings. WBEZ’s Melba Lara spoke with Caputo about her findings and their implications.
One of your findings indicates that more than a third of all recent Chicago police shootings started with a foot chase. Why is that?
Police in Chicago are under enormous pressure to get guns off the streets. And what we’ve found — even in these foot chases that begin with fairly routine interactions — is that half of them that escalated to a shooting started with a curfew violation, someone drinking on a porch. Very low-level, routine street stops.
We found that [the police] were right oftentimes; they ended up chasing someone who did have a gun. And for someone with a gun there’s an enormous consequence for being caught with it. Many of the people who were shot by police have a criminal record and have other gun offenses and if they’re caught again then they’re going to do time for it. So this is why something so routine can escalate into such a serious situation very quickly.
Who is getting shot by police in terms of racial breakdown?
Overall, 80 percent of people who’ve been shot by police between 2010 and 2015 were African-American. But the rate is higher in these foot chases. It’s 94 percent of the people who were shot were African-American. So I think it really gets at the way communities are policed and the pressure that police are under to get guns off the street, and the way people respond to being stopped by police even for low-level incidents.
What you’ve found about these shootings comes inside of a trend that indicates the number of police-involved shootings is going down. Is that correct?
Yes, the number of police-involved shootings is trending down, despite all of the attention. Maybe there’s a correlation there, but I’m not sure.
You’ve said it took months for the Tribune to collect this information. Why did it take so long?
Well, it’s controversial data. Across the country, it’s unusual to release the names of officers who are involved in shootings. I’m sure there was reservation about freely releasing it. But the Tribune really dug in and felt that this is public information and was ready to sue if necessary to get it. And now we have it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.