Under pressure over the department’s abysmally low rate of solving shootings, Chicago police announced plans Monday to add 50 more sergeants next year to improve its supervision of detectives investigating violent crime.
The department also said it will bring in experts from the Los Angeles Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice to recommend how investigators here can solve more homicides and shootings.
The measures come at a time when the Chicago Tribune has been examining the challenges faced by police in solving violent crime from just one weekend in early August when at least 75 people were shot, 13 of them fatally — the most violent weekend in Chicago in years.
As part of the Tribune’s recurring series, a front-page story Sunday focused on concerns and frustrations plaguing residents and witnesses on one West Side block in which a shootout that weekend left four people wounded. One eyewitness did not hear from a detective for nearly four months.
READ MORE: Four months after violent shootout, residents of one proud Chicago block still waiting for answers from police »
At a news conference Monday at police headquarters, Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the bulk of the 50 new sergeants will likely be overseeing homicide and shooting investigations. Some, though, could also be assigned to supervise the work of detectives handling robberies, sexual assaults and missing person cases, he said.
Police officials would not immediately say how many sergeants are already supervising the detective ranks.
Johnson made no direct connection to the abysmal clearance rate but said the additional 50 sergeants would “ensure proper case management and provide supervision and mentorship to detectives.”
Johnson said LAPD and the Justice Department — with an assist from the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based law enforcement think tank — will start their work with the department as early as next week.
They will “assess and collaborate on ways that we can better support” detectives, Johnson told reporters.
The assistance from outside experts comes nearly two years after the Justice Department — as part of an investigation following the Laquan McDonald police shooting scandal — issued a scathing report on CPD from top to bottom. That report also cited the department’s low clearance rate for homicides, noting how trust between the police and Chicago’s communities, especially those most beset by violence, was critical in solving the killings.
The report also mentioned how grieving families of homicide victims told Justice Department investigators about times in which detectives would not interview key witnesses or suspects, declined to obtain relevant video footage and failed to update relatives on the status of investigations in the slayings of loved ones.
At the Monday announcement, Chicago police officials also said the department plans to set up “nerve centers” — similar to those already operating at many of the city’s patrol districts — at each of its three detective headquarters.
Officially known as Strategic Decision Support Centers, they have been credited by the department with helping reduce violence over the last two years by better and more quickly deploying officers on the street with the help of gun detection technology and real-time crime data.
At the detective headquarters, the nerve centers will emphasize more efficiently combing through surveillance video that detectives obtain during their canvasses of crime scenes, officials said.
Johnson’s chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said funding for the 50 new sergeants will come from the department’s 2019 budget. The sergeants will be assigned to the detective division next year, he said.
Guglielmi said the department is also exploring issuing cellphones to detectives to help access police databases at crime scenes as well as to improve communications with witnesses and victims.
“But there’s challenges with that, too,” he said. “There’s obviously some cost issues.”
Through early September, Chicago police detectives arrested or identified suspects in about 17 percent of all homicides that had occurred so far in 2018 — the same rate as for all of 2017 — the lowest clearance rate for killings in years, according to official Chicago police statistics.
The clearance rate for nonfatal shootings is even worse. Through early September, the city’s detectives had solved 6.5 percent of its 2018 nonfatal shootings to that point, the statistics show. Detectives in all of 2017 solved 7.2 percent of nonfatal shootings that occurred that same year, according to the figures.
Since the violent first weekend in August, Chicago police have arrested at least three gunmen in the 40 shooting incidents that resulted in the wounding or killing of 75 people over that nearly three-day period.
“Other cities are a lot better than us,” Brendan Deenihan, deputy chief in the detective division, told the Tribune in August. “And we have to take ownership for our low clearance rate, and I understand that. And we will do so.
“However, every single study I have read, the most difficult cases to solve are outside violence with a handgun, gang involvement,” he said. “And, unfortunately, in the city of Chicago that is the vast number of shootings.”
The continued woes in solving shootings and homicides come despite progress in the battle against violent crime, though Chicago is still far more violent than New York City or Los Angeles, both bigger cities.
With a month left to go in 2018, Chicago has recorded 2,198 shooting incidents this year, about a 16 percent drop from the first 11 months of 2017 and about a 34 percent decline over the same period in 2016, according to official police statistics.
Through November, 515 people were killed, about a 17 percent drop over 618 homicides for the same year-earlier period, the statistics show. During that same period in 2016, 716 people were killed.
MORE FROM THE TRIBUNE’S “75 SHOT” SERIES:
Tribune reporters examine Chicago police clearance rates for one of the city’s most violent weekends of the year »
Chicago police solve one in every 20 shootings. Here are some reasons why that’s so low. »