Top city officials still aren't saying exactly what they think Chicago's handgun ban is accomplishing. I'm wondering whether they can't—or just won't because sticking up for the ban gives them cover for their inability to cope with our city's persistent violence.
Police superintendent Jody Weis held a press conference at police headquarters Sunday morning to announce that total crime from the beginning of the year through the end of May was down 5.8 percent from 2009. He told the seven members of the media present (it's amazing that many of us showed up since the police department didn't e-mail notice of the event till 10 PM Saturday) that crime has dropped from the year before for 17 consecutive months.
But some of the other stats Weis disclosed—and his discussion of several recent shootings—were far more revealing.
For starters, Weis acknowledged that murders were up slightly, from 158 in 2009 to 164 this year. "Homicides continue to challenge us," he said.
But he said that the department is aggressively using "analytics" to identify crime hot spots and mobilize additional officers there. "We've been relatively successful since putting these new methods in place."
It's not clear exactly what's new about these methods, since the department has employed some version of what used to be called the Special Operations Section in hot spots for years—though the old SOS was disbanded after a series of high-profile misconduct allegations against some of its officers.
Nevertheless, the superintendent went on to highlight some of the department's other successes, including weapon seizures. From the beginning of 2010 through the end of May, Weis said, Chicago police had confiscated 3,513 weapons—an average of about 22 a day. Among them were 130 assault weapons, or about one a day.
This is a good thing, Weis told us—the numbers are up from 2009. But he obviously couldn't explain how the gun ban was stopping the flow of arms into the city. When a reporter asked him about the ban, he resorted to the company line. "We're optimistic—we're hoping the Supreme Court will uphold the current ordinance," he said.
He went on to cite a disturbing recent murder as an example of why the ban is important—a woman shot to death Saturday in the Calumet Heights neighborhood after a dispute over a card game.
"People get upset, they get angry—if that gun wasn't in the house there's probably an excellent chance that woman would be alive today," Weis said. "It's a perfect example of the dangers of having a weapon inside of a home with folks who in my opinion do not have the emotional maturity and stability to have such a weapon inside the house."
The superintendent wasn't willing to weigh in on the case of the 80-year-old west-side man who shot and killed an armed intruder a couple of weeks ago. The man's wife has said he saved their lives. But by owning the gun he was breaking the law.
"We're still gathering the evidence on that," Weis said.
Nor was Weis able to provide evidence that the ban is helping reduce the number of people shot. Shootings are classified as aggravated batteries, which are down 6.2 percent from last year, but that category also includes incidents involving knives, bats, and even hands and feet.
A reporter asked him how the number of shootings in 2010 compares with that for 2009.
"I'd have to get back to you," he said. "I know they were pretty close to last year, but I don't remember if they were up or down."
After the Q&A ended, police department spokesman Roderick Drew looked up the shooting stats for us. He said that through May there had been 661 aggravated batteries involving firearms—up 2.4 percent from last year.
That's an average of more than four shootings a day.