Lawmakers Summon National Guard To Stop Chicago Violence
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR news.
Just ahead, we'll talk with Margot Wallstrom. She's a U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict zones. She's working to stop the use of rape as a weapon of war. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.
But first, we turn to crime on the streets of one of America's biggest cities. There have been multiple murders in Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods over the past few weeks, including the death of a 20-month-old girl who was struck in the head by a stray bullet. A high murder rate in Chicago is not new. But the randomness, the brutality and the youth of many of those affected has city leaders and residents alike up in arms.
Earlier this week, two Democratic Illinois state representatives took the unusual step of asking the government to call in the National Guard to help patrol Chicago's streets. We called one of those representatives, John Fritchey. He's from the 11th District on the north side of Chicago and he joins us from the capital of Springfield.
Also with us on the line from his office in New York is Bill Bratton. He's the former chief of police for the Los Angeles Police Department and the New York City Police Department. And he's currently the chairman at Altegrity Risk International, that's a security consulting firm. And I welcome you both and I thank you both for speaking with us.
Mr. BILL BRATTON (Chairman, Altegrity Risk International): Thank you.
Representative JOHN FRITCHEY (Democrat, Illinois 11th District): Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: John Fritchey, if we could start with you. Why did you want the governor to call in the National Guard?
Rep. FRITCHEY: Well, I really just gotten to the point where I can't see one more story about a child getting shot or old people are just afraid to be in their front porch. I've been a staunch supporter of the men and women of the Chicago Police Department and I think they're doing a fine job. But the reality is with summer right around the corner, we will see violence and crime like we always do. And I think that we need to provide the resources that we can to help the police get out there and, you know, surge in these areas and have greater patrols.
MARTIN: Let me just ask you to just take a step back, representative, and ask, why do you think it is that Chicago is experiencing this? I just want to point out that the city had 458 homicides last year. Meanwhile, New York City which has three times the population had only 13 more homicides in the same year with a population three times the size. So, obviously, any one is too many. But do you have any a theory about why it is that Chicago is continuing to experience this when a number of other major cities are not.
Rep. FRITCHEY: Well, I think there's a lot of theories out there and it's interesting how numbers can be bandied about. You know, in the long term, there's other core issues that may lead to this violence. We need more job opportunities in these communities. We need parents to step up and keep a better eye on their children. We need the members of the community to break the code of silence and turn in the people that are committing these crimes.
But I think, you know, at the end of the day, you're looking at core cultural issues, whether it's a failed war on drugs, whether it is a societal breakdown that's leading to a lot of these problems.
MARTIN: Okay, but having said that, it's hard to imagine that New York City has any fewer dysfunctional parents, perhaps, than Chicago does. If you think that's kind of the cause of the thing or the job opportunities for the particular kid. People involved are that much different. I'm not going to hector you, but I do want to ask, why is Chicago still experiencing this kind of high murder rate and other major cities have seen even more dramatic changes than Chicago?
Rep. FRITCHEY: Well, it's a vexing question, but a very legitimate one. You know, I would submit that on a certain toll we have a culture of complacency in this city. You have a number of people in these affected areas that simply accept the violence as a part of daily life.
In the areas that aren't affected, people say, hey, my neighborhood is safe, it's really not an issue to me. So we really have two mentalities that both add fuel to the fire, as it were, and let these things go on.
MARTIN: Chief, let's bring you into the conversation. You have the unusual biography of having been the chief, the head of the department in both New York City and Los Angeles. And before that, you worked in Boston. So can I just ask, what's your perspective on this?
Mr. BRATTON: Well, I think it's basically an uptick and it happens all the time. You are never going to have a consistent decline without, from time to time, an uptick. And this uptick is unfortunate in terms of the scale of it. But the responses that are being brought to play, I think that you'll see that this will start basically going down.
I'd point out that New York City right now, their murder rate this year is up about, I think the last figure is 15 to 20 percent. In Los Angeles, the murder rate the first couple of months of this year was up about 20 some odd percent. So these things will occur and the positive side of it is that it does refocus energy on the larger problems.
MARTIN: Why do they occur, chief? Why do these upticks occur?
Mr. BRATTON: Who knows? In a sense, you get one gang going at another gang. You got one neighborhood gets riled up. And in the case of Los Angeles, it was very specifically a couple of gangs going at each other. And policing has gotten very good over the last several years.
And, in fact, Chicago has been celebrated for a lot of its initiatives. Ceasefire is community policing efforts going back through four different police superintendents in Chicago. That Chicago is in fact looked to for a lot of the creative ideas to deal with crime, race issues, police competency.
So I would suggest that the current uptick, the positive side of it is similar to the discussion we're now having. It brings a lot of new people into the mix, a lot of discussion. I would predict for you that you're going to see that this uptick will start to subside as arrests are made, as the community gets more involved. And I'd point out also...
MARTIN: Well, chief, let me just stop you, though. Wouldn't that imply then that if this is some sort of a spike, then perhaps an injection of a new element might be appropriate to address it, such as bringing in the National Guard. For example, if you had a fever, an uptick in a fever, you wouldn't just say you wouldn't ignore it, you'd treat it. You'd take aspirin, you wouldn't take aspirin every day, but you'd take it when you needed it. So, why wouldn't that be a good if you could address that specific question of why not bring in the National Guard?
Mr. BRATTON: National Guard is the last thing any American city needs policing its streets. They are a military organization. They are not trained in terms of all of the issues that American police forces - and Chicago has a highly trained police force. National Guard is made up some of them are police officers, the majority are not because they would probably use military police companies.
They just don't understand the neighborhoods. You have highly trained police officers who know these neighborhoods and you're going to bring into that element people from all over the state that many of whom have never worked in an urban environment. National Guard is not appropriate in any American city in normal times. And even with this uptick in violence, these are normal times. You're not having a riot of major proportions, you're not having a natural disaster.
There is, unfortunately, Chicago at this time, as there had been in Los Angeles and New York, an uptick in violence. But what it would require is more of the medicines of that we know do work.
MARTIN: Okay. We're going to ask representative to respond. But before we do, I just want to mention that if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking about a proposal from two state representatives in Illinois to ask the governor to bring the National Guard in to patrol the most violent sufflated streets after an uptick, as we've been calling it, in violence there.
We're speaking with Illinois state representative, John Fritchey, and former LAPD police chief, Bill Bratton, who is also the former chief of the New York City Police Department. He's now a security consultant.
The chief had some strong words about this, representative. In fact, and the Chicago superintendent, police superintendent, Jody Weis, echoes Chief Ratton's perspective on this. This is what he had to say.
Mr. JODY WEIS (Superintendent, Chicago Police Department): Well, I think the people that say that don't understand what that would really mean. The military doesn't use search warrants. They don't really focus much on Miranda. We would basically give up a lot of constitutional rights if you ever had the military patrolling the streets of Chicago. I know people say that out of frustration. But if they actually look at what the military would do, no one would want that.
MARTIN: So, Representative Fritchey, what about that? I mean, Chief Bratton says this is never appropriate unless there's some extreme emergency like civil disorder, like a natural disaster. What do you say to that?
Rep. FRITCHEY: Well, I would point out a couple of issues. Number one, in the city of Chicago we are presently 2,000 officers understaffed. With respect to the background and training of these officers, we have more than enough National Guardsman that live in Chicago that were stationed out of Chicago that could be brought in.
Superintendent Weis has talked about finding 100 officers to volunteer for strategic response team to deal with these hot spots in the city. That would simply entail right now bringing officers from other areas of the city into these hot spots and perhaps leave us vulnerable somewhere else.
Rather than stretch an overly tasked police department, I'm submitting that we can find 100 police officers or 100 National Guardsmen that are actually trained in law enforcement or have a law enforcement background that could come in and complement the existing force.
With respect to Superintendent Weis' comments of, you know, machine gun toting guardsmen kicking down doors without search warrants, the rules of engagement is what's going to dictate how the National Guard operates in this situation. That's why we had to ask the governor to work with the mayor, with the superintendent to figure out how best to implement these individuals. They could be, as I said, ride along in patrol cars. They could be feet on the street, an extra eyes and ears on the ground.
But the thought of basically them walking around and simply taking away everybody's constitutional rights is more of a scare tactic than anything else in my mind.
MARTIN: Okay. Chief Bratton, I'm going to ask you for one final thought before we let you go. Is there anything that you would recommend that Chicago try that they have perhaps not yet tried? What would you say they should do?
Mr. BRATTON: Two quick things. The Chicago police force, the size of that police force, actually, on a per capita basis is larger than the New York City police force and the Los Angeles Police Department. You also have the opportunity to in a crisis over time, understanding that you are a cash-strapped city.
Superintendent Weis, who's very good at this, who have the ability to move existing resources around in a very large police force, but also to utilize over time, and that's one of the benefits of over time. So you're using highly trained Chicago police officers who are familiar with the rules of engagement, know each other as far as officer safety, know the communities they're policing, so that would be a less costly initiative to deal with the short term issues you're facing.
The National Guard, again, even if you had them in there just for visibility standing on street corners, what if there's a shootout and they're drawn into that? They are not trained to deal with that. They don't have the appropriate weaponry. They don't have the appropriate experience. They would exacerbate rather than lessen the issue.
MARTIN: John Fritchey, I'm going to give you the last word since it's you're town. And just to let our listeners know that Governor Pat Quinn says he will not deploy the National Guard unless the mayor asks him to. And Mayor Richard Daley has been fairly critical of the idea, although he has not rejected it outright. So what's next?
Rep. FRITCHEY: Well, I would simply say that nobody hopes that Chief Bratton and Superintendent Weis are right more than I do. But the fact of the matter is we simply don't have the money to put additional officers on the street. Although everybody knows that will be the optimal choice. And if we can bring the National Guard in to fill sandbags in anticipation of a flood, particularly tornado debris, I believe that we can bring them in a limited capacity to help save lives.
MARTIN: John Fritchey is a state representative from Illinois. He represents the 11th district. He was kind enough to join us from the state capital. Bill Bratton is the former chief of the LAPD and the New York City Police Department. He's currently security executive with Altegrity, a security consultancy, and he joined us from New York. And I thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Rep. FRITCHEY: Thank you.
Mr. BRATTON: Pleasure to be with you, all the best.
Rep. FRITCHEY: Thank you, Michel.
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