Trump Promises Help as New Chicago Gun Crime Task Force Forms

Crime scene tape is stretched around the front of a home where a man was shot on May 28, 2017 in Chicago / Getty
• June 30, 2017 10:12 am

President Donald Trump on Friday promised to send in "federal help" to gun-crime-ridden Chicago after a new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives force was assembled to help address the city's spiking murder rate.

"Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in federal help. 1714 shootings in Chicago this year!" Trump tweeted.

This is not the first time Trump has promised federal action to address Chicago's rising crime rate. In January, days after being sworn in, the president tweeted, "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible ‘carnage' going on … I will send in the Feds!"

Now, 20 additional federal ATF agents have been sent to Chicago to step up the campaign against gun violence and homicide in the city, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. They join 35 to 40 agents already working in the city.

They will work with counterparts in the Chicago Police Department and Illinois State Police to fight shootings and gun trafficking using ballistics technology. Prosecutors from the state and federal attorneys' offices have also been assigned to help.

"The goal is to prosecute as many of these guys as possible federally where they will serve longer prison terms," Anthony Riccio, head of the Chicago Police Department's organized crime unit, told the Sun-Times.

Riccio said that the new strike force, officially formed on June 1, has a "bunch of leads" so far, using ATF resources to track the use of pistols and assault rifles across Chicago.

The new strike force is an inter-administration undertaking, originally envisioned while former President Barack Obama was still in office. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson traveled to Washington, D.C., in March to meet with new Attorney General Jeff Sessions and push for federal assistance. Sessions, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, worked to quickly assemble the ATF group.

Chicago's murder rate remains worrying to both officials and residents. The Chicago Tribune, which tracks homicides in Chicago, reports 328 homicides since the start of 2017, compared to 786 homicides in all of 2016.

Preliminary numbers from the Brennan Center for Justice suggest that in 2016, Chicago's murder rate spiked, from 17.5 murders per 100,000 people to 28.6 murders per 100,000 people. That is an increase of 63 percent, accounting for 55.1 percent of the total increase in murders across America's 30 largest cities. This development is similar to 2015, when 500 people were killed, the most homicides of any city in America that year.

Chicago's overall and violent crime rates have also increased since 2015, according to the Brennan Center. Crime is up 9.9 percent, while violent crime is up 16.5 percent.

Shootings overall are also a persistent threat in Chicago, with Chicagoans wounded and killed daily. According to Chicago Sun-Times data, 1,737 people have been shot in 2017, with almost 400 shot in June alone.

While Chicago's gun violence problem is not expected to go away anytime soon, neither is the ATF force. It is expected to be in Chicago for the long haul, rather than simply in "surges" as past federal deployments have been.

"It's long term," Riccio said. "They're here permanently. It's not a flash-in-the-pan concept where they come here for a year and leave."