CN September 29 2016


Wanna know a big reason why people are shooting their fellow citizens on Chicago’s streets?  Because they can. Because there are few, if any, consequences.

“95% of the time if you shoot somebody and they survive you’re going to get away with it in Chicago. That is why this is going on,” declares Frank Main, the Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter at the Sun-Times.

In fact, the CPD’s “clearance rate,” even for murders, has fallen to around 20%. So even if you kill somebody, there’s an excellent chance you’ll get away with it.

With the ranks of Chicago’s detective force dropping by about 300 since 2008, the remaining 900-odd detectives are simply overwhelmed with this year’s 500 murders and 3,000-plus shootings, various news organizations have reported. And that’s not counting the thousands of still-active cases from years past.

But Mayor Emanuel and other city leaders, while calling for more detectives, insist that the bigger problem is lenient judges who let shooters back onto the streets. And they want mandatory-minimum sentences for the possession of an illegal gun and increased penalties for any crime committed with a gun.

“It sounds good to create a big mandatory minimum sentence like two or three years for possession of a gun,” Main explains, ” but the reality… and what actually happens, judges will simply dismiss a case if they don’t think that this person should go to prison for three or two years, or a deal will be cut where the person is no longer charged with the crime that would put them in prison for two or three years, a lesser crime, and so the same old thing would happen.”

Main tells us that a different approach, offered by State Senator Kwame Raoul, sends a list of proposed sentences to the judge and requires  judges who don’t follow the guidelines to explain in writing why they didn’t. We ask Main if there are, as  some people charge, just a bunch of lenient judges who are really soft on shooters.

“No,” he explains. “They are soft on possessionary gun crimes, so there’s a difference. I think the judges see so much violence and shootings and murder in their courtrooms that when somebody comes in for just carrying a gun they don’t believe that that’s a serious a crime…”

We also talk about “de-escalation.” The CPD has started training its officers in the practice, hoping to curb police-related violence. Main says it can be helpful, but only within limits.

“You know the older guys have their way that they do things,” Main tells us, “But the younger guys are more trainable I would think, and the people coming out of the academy the most so. I think you do have to go in and tell all the officers about what you expect them to do, you know. Hopefully some of this works and it de-fuses some situations that wind up going south.”

The show opens with a conversation about Main’s recent “Life on a Ledge” suite of stories and graphics, which tell the story of Kendra Smith, who took her own life in a jump from a roof near Main’s home. Main was so deeply affected by the fall, which he witnessed, that it dogged him for a long time, and he persuaded his editors to do a “deep dive” into the story. It’s an incredibly emotional venture into the remarkable highs and severe lows of Kendra’s life, and the many people she touched.

You can read a full transcript of this show HERE:  cn-transcript-sep-29-2016





About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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