CHICAGO - After the most violent Fourth of July weekend in four years, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown once again blamed the court system in Cook County, complaining it releases too many violent criminals.
"Chicago police officers are doing their job by arresting people and charging them with murder," Brown said Tuesday, the day after a long holiday weekend that saw more than 100 people shot, 19 of them fatally.
"That’s doing our part," he said. "And what’s happening in the courts, it’s creating this unsafe environment for all of us."
It’s an argument both he and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have repeatedly made as this year’s violence continues to outpace last year, which was the most violent for the city since the mid-1990s.
Brown pointed to more than 90 people who’ve been charged with murder but were later released back into their communities on electronic monitoring.
"If the cops’ productivity was down and not unprecedentedly high, I would be arguing we need to do more as police officers, that’s not the case here," he said, noting officers recovered 244 illegal guns over the holiday weekend, resulting in 86 arrests.
The superintendent did not say if police had made any arrests in any of the weekend shootings, including attacks that wounded at least 13 children 15 years of age and younger.
This holiday was the most violent Fourth of July weekend since 2017, when at least 101 people were shot, 14 of them fatally. However, that holiday was on a Tuesday, so the tally covered four full days, not three like this year.
Many of the shootings were in the Calumet and South Chicago police districts on the South Side, in neighborhoods that have seen more violence this year than last, according to Sun-Times data.
Brown was quick to point out that violent crime in other major cities has increased dramatically more than Chicago, both last year and this year. "It’s a violent crime wave that’s happening in this country," he said.
So far in 2021, murders are up nearly 18% nationally, according to statistics compiled by crime analyst Jeff Asher, while Chicago has seen an increase of nearly 4% from the same period last year.
However, murders last year in Chicago jumped by more than 50%, much higher than the national increase of 30%.
The nearly 800 killings in Chicago in 2020 was still short of the city’s annual tallies during much of the 1980s and 1990s, but marked the highest number of slayings in 20 years.
"No one would do the job that Chicago police officers do right now, no one would wade into large crowds and risk being shot," Brown said. "No one would go down these dark allies that officers go down."
Two officers — a commander and a sergeant — were wounded on the West Side early Sunday while dispersing a crowd. One was hit in the foot, the other grazed in the thigh.
Brown said he wasn’t engaging in "finger pointing" by blaming the courts, but seeking to spur further debate.
"I think people should hear this," he said. "This is a worthwhile debate here and in all places around the country."
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell said he watched Brown’s press conference online, and disagreed with the superintendent’s assessment that the large number of people charged with murder on electronic monitoring devices are "driving the violence."
"If you are charged with something as serious as murder, you probably have posted a very high cash bond and are still subject to all sorts of restrictions. You’re being monitored on GPS, so we know exactly where you are. You have curfews. You have to check in with the court," said Mitchell, whose office represents roughly 90% of all criminal defendants in Cook County.
Criticizing low bonds and focusing on arrests are frequent talking points of the superintendent. Mitchell said the messaging might be politically expedient, but detracts from programs that seek to suppress crime through community outreach.
"This idea that if the courts would just ‘do their job’ and we would all be safer flies in the face of numerous studies," Mitchell said. "Crime is up in cities all over the U.S. right now, and that covers cities with conservative bond policies and bond reform.
"I feel for the superintendent. He has a very difficult job," he added. "But we have to get away from asking what the superintendent is going to do on a Thursday to stop violence over the weekend."