Mayor Rahm Emanuel laid out his plan to tackle Chicago’s gun violence in a speech on Sept. 22. Now that his ideas have had time to sink in, some students and professors view the plan with skepticism.
Speaking at Malcolm X College on the Near West Side, Emanuel outlined his proposed reforms in the wake of increased gun violence in the city. Since Jan. 1, there have been 536 homicides in Chicago, compared to 493 homicides in all of 2015, according to Chicago Police Department (CPD) data.
In his speech, Emanuel said reducing gun violence is a “top priority” for the city, and named three areas that need the most resources: enforcement, investment and prevention.
The CPD plans to hire nearly 1,000 more police officers over the next two years. In addition, all officers will be equipped with body cameras by next year, and every officer has already been given a Taser, Emanuel said.
Other plans include putting new training requirements into place, replacing the organization that investigates police misconduct, increasing penalties for people arrested for illegal firearm possession and placing more restrictions on people who sell guns.
Emanuel also promised to dedicate $36 million to expanding youth mentoring programs over the next three years. Half of that money came from the city; the other half is from various donations. He said it’s necessary for communities and police officers in neighborhoods experiencing the most crime to connect with one another for the reforms to be effective. He also set aside $8 million in funding “to leverage new small businesses, create new jobs, and develop new retail corridors” in low-income neighborhoods where gun violence is the most frequent.
Loyola criminal justice and criminology professor David Olson, Ph.D., said he thinks the mayor’s plan would be more effective if the proposed resources were allocated differently. Increasing the police force, Olson said, might not work as well as one could think.
“It’s not how many police [officers] you have, it’s what [they] are engaged in and what they’re doing,” Olson said.
Officers should be concentrated in the neighborhoods experiencing the most violence, and they should actively seek out perpetrators instead of waiting for people to call the police after the fact, Olson said.
The police force should also focus on solving crimes, he said. Nearly 34 percent of homicides in Chicago were solved in 2010, compared to about 72 percent in 1990, when the murder rate was almost twice the current rate, according to the CPD’s annual reports from those years.
The public, though, assumes that more police officers will result in less violence because the response is “immediate and visceral,” Olson said.
Instead of increasing the number of police officers on the street, he said, more resources should be devoted to youth mentoring programs and community development.
Mentoring programs “can be impactful,” Olson said.
The biggest challenges are making sure those programs are managed efficiently and stay true to their original design as they expand, according to Olson, especially since the amount of funding they receive is lower than the amount put toward policing.
The $8 million Emanuel set aside for helping communities will not do much, according to Olson.
“Thats pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things,” he said.
Loyola assistant political science professor Twyla Blackmond Larnell, Ph.D., said she agreed that community development is one of the most important factors when it comes to reducing gun violence.
“Most of my work … [focuses] on economic development and addressing disparities via targeted economic development, and I think that’s the biggest thing,” she said. “We know that gun violence is highest in poorer communities with lower levels of educational attainment and higher levels of unemployment rate.”
If individuals do not see the value in their communities and have nothing better to do, they will become involved in the gang culture of violence, according to Blackmond Larnell.
“You have to help build up these communities so that they are self-sufficient … [and so] that they can own the positive change they see in their own communities,” she said.
Mentoring the youth only goes so far — you also have to give them the tools to leave or change their communities, Blackmond Larnell said.
“That comes from economic opportunities and social mobility,” she explained.
Christian Geoppo, 19, sophomore economics major and vice president of Loyola University Chicago College Republicans, said he thinks more police is a good idea, especially if the officers policing predominately African-American communities are African-American themselves.
Geoppo said Emanuel could improve his plan by focusing on keeping families intact in the communities most affected by gun violence, suggesting that the mayor could reach out to faith-based leaders to achieve this. “When the family breaks down, then people are put into poverty,” he said.
He agreed with the mayor that mentoring is important because it provides children with strong role models.
“Hopefully, by having a mentoring program, the youth will learn more constructive lifestyles,” he said. “There are alternatives to gangs and drugs.”
Senior student Jason Pica II, 20, does not think hiring more police officers will reduce gun violence in the city. “If you look in the areas now that are high-violence, most of those people do not trust officers, so having more officers won’t make them call on the help of officers,” said the political science major and member of Black Students Matter LUC.
Hiring more officers to help solve crimes may be helpful, Pica said, but he does not think it will reduce crime.
Pica supports more funding for mentoring programs for children in violent areas.
“Mentoring helps, definitely, especially when it comes from people who are like those in the area,” he said.
Gun violence, Pica said, is a complex issue with a complicated solution.
“I think a lot of it has to do with lack of education,” he said, citing his own experience working at Paul Robeson high school in Englewood on Chicago’s South Side. “If you graduate not being able to read, what is life after that?”
In his speech, Emanuel expressed the importance of making Chicago a safer place to live by asking, “At the end of the day, we will be judged by one simple question: Can a mother in any neighborhood in Chicago send her children outside to play with peace of mind that they are safe?”
Whether or not they mayor’s plan will result in a “yes” to that question remains to be seen.