In an exclusive telephone interview with the Tribune, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he was baffled by the meaning of the president’s tweet, which was sent Tuesday night as the city’s latest violence statistics were being aired on national cable news.
“The statement is so broad. I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Johnson said.
At the White House daily briefing Wednesday afternoon, press secretary Sean Spicer sought to clarify Trump’s remark, telling reporters that the president was upset about “turning on the television and seeing Americans get killed by shootings” but giving no indication the president was close to ordering in troops.
“What he wants to do is provide the resources of the federal government, and it can span a bunch of things,” Spicer said. “There’s no one thing. There can be aid, if it was requested, up through the governor through the proper channels that the federal government can provide on a law enforcement basis.”
Trump tweeted that “if Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!”
Many took it to mean that he would send in the National Guard, something Johnson said he opposed. The superintendent was not sure what authority the troops would have, but he didn’t think they would have the power to make arrests.
“They’re not trained for this type of action,” he said.
Johnson told the Tribune he hasn’t been contacted by the Trump administration and didn’t believe Mayor Rahm Emanuel or other city officials had been either.
Johnson said he does not oppose increased assistance from the federal government — whether that would mean more agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or more help geared toward youth living in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.
“We would use (federal funding for) mentorship programs, after-school programs,” he said. “Those are the things I think we can use.”
Trump’s tweet — which echoed statements he’d made before both as a candidate and president-elect — prompted phones to light up Wednesday at the Chicago FBI office and the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, where national reporters were calling seeking reaction.
In response, the Chicago FBI put out a general statement saying the agency “works closely” with state, local and federal partners “to combat violent crime.”
“FBI Chicago continually provides resources to this effort and encourages the public to contact law enforcement if they have information relating to violence in their neighborhood,” the statement read.
The U.S. attorney’s office had no immediate comment.
Spicer said aid could be extended “through the U.S. attorney’s office or other means,” but he did not specify what that meant. He also did not offer a specific timetable.
“I think next is we’ll hopefully get a dialogue started with Mayor Emanuel and try to figure out what a path forward can be so that we come up with a plan that can keep the people of Chicago safe and help ease the problem there,” Spicer said.
Last year, Chicago experienced its worst violence in two decades — with more than 4,300 people shot, 762 of them fatally, according to official Police Department statistics.
And the violence has continued at comparable levels so far in January. The numbers cited by Trump in his tweet came from a Tribune analysis of homicides and shootings. But official Police Department figures show that through Sunday 35 people have been slain, a 13 percent increase over 31 a year earlier. The number of shooting incidents have almost been identical — 169 this year compared with 168 last year, police figures show.
Since taking over as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor in 2013, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon has repeatedly said that combating violence was a major priority for his office. But he’s tempered expectations of how much of a dent federal authorities can make with limited resources and also stressed that the problems that lead to violence are deep and multifaceted.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of the gang problem that we have in the city of Chicago,” Fardon said in a November 2013 interview with the Tribune and other local media. At the time, his office had about a third of its 130 full-time criminal prosecutors devoted to gang and drug cases.
Fardon has also used his pulpit to speak in-depth about how socio-economic factors, segregation and other issues play into the gun violence epidemic by creating essentially two different cities — one prospering and relatively safe and another in neighborhoods on the South and West sides that are poor and crime-ridden.
In a series of speeches to the City Club of Chicago, Fardon has emphasized that law enforcement is just one prong of what has to be a united effort to change entrenched attitudes of hopelessness and low expectations that in turn drive much of the violence. While law enforcement plays a role in going after gang leaders and gun offenders — “the worst of the worst,” he said — changing the root causes of violence will take business and community leaders, clergy, parents, neighbors and others across society. And it will take time.
In his most recent speech last September, Fardon revealed that he has been organizing private roundtable discussions with not-for-profit leaders in communities hardest hit by violence to talk about topics like health care, housing, education, tutoring and workforce development.
Fardon also said a drag on police morale stemming from the Laquan McDonald shooting scandal was at least partly to blame for the spike in violence.
“I believe there was a hit on CPD morale and a drag on officers’ willingness to conduct street stops,” he said. “Some gang members apparently felt that they could get away with more, so more bullets started flying.”
When Michael J. Anderson took over as special agent in charge of the Chicago FBI in October 2015, he told the Tribune the agency was continuing to shift resources — both agents and money — to violent crime as the issue has risen to the national forefront.
Traditionally, the FBI has gone after major cases that take down a street gang’s hierarchy or cartel-level drug distribution networks. But as gangs have fragmented and the motives behind the violence have shifted from drug turf battles to slights on social media, the FBI has learned to deploy resources more strategically, with agents assisting Chicago police and other local authorities in going after violent offenders on the street.
“Our priority is the trigger pullers and the shot callers,” FBI spokesman Garrett Croon said Wednesday. “That’s who we want to know about.”
Source: Chicago Tribune