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Chicago: Where Criminals No Longer Fear the Police

As horrific as that one weekend in 2008 was in Chicago, whatever dubious records it might have set were eclipsed this year on the weekend of June 18-20, when 54 people were shot in the city, ten of them fatally, surely a mark that would rival that of any three-day period in Detroit, New Orleans, or for that matter, Baghdad or Kabul. In a sad but all too typical coda to a story that ran on Chicagobreakingnews.com on June 21, it was reported that no one had been arrested for any of the shootings.

And it gets worse. Three Chicago police officers have been murdered in the last two months, the most recent of whom was Michael Bailey, who at age 62 was only weeks away from retirement. On the morning of July 18, Bailey had finished an overnight shift guarding the home of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and was in front of his own home cleaning his new car, which he had bought as an early retirement gift to himself. He was still dressed in his police uniform when someone tried to rob him. Police officers everywhere accept the risks to life and limb attendant to the job, but it’s generally taken for granted among cops that the uniform will serve as a deterrent against being robbed on the street. What level of depravity has a city reached when a uniformed police officer is no safer from a street robbery than anyone else? More important, what is to be done about it?

These are questions some are asking within the Chicago Police Department, where morale among the rank and file is low and falling still. An unsigned essay, purportedly written by a Chicago police officer, has been making its way via e-mail around the department, and it found its way into the Dunphy in-box.  Titled “A City At War With Itself -- Chicago -- a Fast Track to Anarchy,” the essay chronicles the many ways the city’s police department and municipal government have failed to address the rising level of violence. (The essay has been posted on various blogs, one of which is here.)

The author laments the recent history of the Chicago Police Department, which, in his opinion, has descended into chaos and ineffectualness. “In a few short years,” he writes, “[the police department] has deteriorated into a totally demoralized, understaffed police department that criminals no longer fear.”

Here in Los Angeles, we have seen with stunning clarity what happens when criminals no longer fear the police. In 1998, then-LAPD Chief Bernard Parks disbanded the city’s anti-gang units in a misguided and ill-fated response to a scandal involving one such unit at one of the city’s 18 police stations. The results were as tragic as they were predictable: murders in the city, which had been on the decline from their all-time high of 1992, began to climb, increasing from 419 in 1998 to 647 in 2002. Only when Parks was finally shown the exit and the LAPD’s anti-gang efforts were resumed did that trend reverse itself. (There were 308 murders in L.A. in 2009, the lowest total since 1967.)

During that five-year period, Los Angeles passed a tipping point beyond which the LAPD lost -- perhaps surrendered -- control of the streets. As the number of murders went up, the clearance rate went down, further emboldening those for whom the law held little impediment against their predations on the community. Similar processes are underway in Chicago right now. The police department, underfunded and undermanned, is headed by Superintendent Jody Weis, who was appointed by Mayor Daley in 2008 after a 22-year career with the FBI. Weis, who never served as a police officer, and who since his arrival has made some unpopular decisions, has thus far failed to gain the respect of the rank and file, without which there is little hope of improvement in the department and the city.

And to further illustrate the paralysis that has marked the response to Chicago’s troubles, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has announced the formation of a new Anti-Violence Commission, the very thought of which will surely cause even the most debased Chicago hoodlum to change his ways and start attending novenas down at Holy Name Cathedral.

Pity the good people of Chicago. The thugs give them dead bodies, the governor gives them commissions.