Nine months into the year, the city of Chicago had already experienced more murders than the total number committed in the U.S. all of the year. From innocent children, to defenseless seniors to unsuspecting parents heartbreakingly caught in the line of fire as they simply tried to make their way to and from, no one has proven immune to or capable of escaping crime in the city.
One after another, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy have incorporated program after program aimed at combating all the deadly action. But their latest tactic, at least among critics, seems to be sparking nearly as much outrage as the violence itself.
Armed with what they deem “heat lists,” cops assigned to the department’s Fugitive Apprehension Section now roam city streets in active and door-to-door pursuit of suspects wanted for misdemeanor crimes as minor as trespassing or disorderly conduct.
Such are the core principles of the department’s new anti-violence approach designed to arrest and detain fugitives who have links to other homicide victims. The strategy is based on the teachings of Yale University sociology professor and Chicago gang’s expert Andrew Papachristos. It concludes that so-called “hot people” are far more likely themselves, as a result of social ties and connections, to become the victims or perpetrators of similar crimes. Thus far this year, at least 165 people from all across the city have been placed on such lists.
They were stopped with a murder victim, or arrested with a murder victim in the past two years”, Joseph Salemme, commander of the CPD’s fugitive unit told the Chicago Sun-Times of the rationale. “Or they were two degrees of separation away from the victim or victims.”
As further justification for the somewhat controversial program, city officials point to the high-crime Harrison District on the city’s West Side. Overall the city’s murder rate stands at 14.5 per 100,000. In Harrison it jumps to 44.5 per 100,000 and among “hot people” in that area balloons to 1,865 per 100,000.
In June, CPD doubled the number of officers assigned to its fugitive unit and began assigning heat-index numbers to each person placed on the list, effectively rating how likely they consider each person to be at risk of somehow being involved in a killing. From that point, patrols are dispatched with orders of nabbing targeted suspects and bringing them into custody.
In one particular instance, officers spent days on the trial of 19-year-old Brandon Milton. Initially collared on a reckless conduct charge, Milton was furthered red-flagged when he failed to show for a court appearance. But the Englewood neighborhood native’s biggest crime of all appears to have been his ties to a friend killed months earlier after robbing a local barbershop.
Police visited the teen’s mother's house at least three times during a one-week period before catching up with him, leading to a 30-day jail sentence— enough time officers hoped would give the situation time to cool off and them an opportunity to scare Milton about his wayward ways.
Besides interviewing him about the unsolved murder, officers contend they warned him about his associations and the statistics which now pointed to him being placed at greater risk. It’s all part of a desperate last plan to prompt a change in lifestyle.
“It’s scary, Gidget Milton nonetheless told the Sun-Times of the aggressive approach officers took in coming to her home. “They were so determined; I thought they wanted him for something more serious, not a misdemeanor. To think there’s a list of kids who are possible targets.”
Salemme countered that the department is convinced taking such criminals off the street in a timely fashion is paramount to effectively policing neighborhood streets and reducing overall violence. While conceding that some of the searches can be greatly time-consuming, with one of them once requiring officers to conduct 35 searches at multiple addresses before finally getting their man, they feel the investment in time is well worth the potential payout.
The rather unorthodox approach is not the first to be taken by the CPD this year. In the face of a 30 percent citywide increase in homicides and the city now being lambasted as “the city under siege,” top city officials recently moved to partner with controversial anti-violence group CeaseFire Illinois.
Following a Memorial Day weekend in which 11 people were killed and another 40 wounded by gun violence, CPD brass turned to the organization, primarily composed of ex-felons known as “interrupters,” as a needed compliment to its anti-gang strategies. CeaseFire members operate by venturing into hot spot neighborhoods and interacting with gang members to quell violence before it happens.
Using funds put forth by the city’s Department of Public Health, the city invested $1 million in the organization to hire up to 40 interrupters that were dispersed across various parts of the city and assigned to mediate all conflicts.
Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star project that provides services to West and South Side CPS students, has no doubt the CeaseFire investment will prove wise in nature. He’s just convinced that at least one other major allotment remains far outstanding.
“There is an interrelationship in the community between the economics and the violence,” Jackson recently told liberal political think-tank group Progress Illinois. He added that many of the teens he regularly works with would “gladly take a minimum wage job,” but are cast aside and drawn to the “economic black market.”