CHICAGO (CBS) — As cities struggle to contain gang violence, which claims lives and holds communities hostage, federal government is sending in special agents to help — but not to Chicago.
Instead, the Justice Department is sending help to Philadelphia, where U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week announced what he calls a four-month “surge” strategy, sending 50 federal law enforcement officers to Philadelphia to work side-by-side with local police.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine has been trying to find out why Chicago, which is making headlines coast to coast with its gang problems and spike in homicides, hasn’t gotten the same help.
The answer is hard to pin down, although there are a number of theories as to why Chicago – with a much bigger percentage increase in murders so far this year – failed to get the same help Philadelphia is receiving.
Holder went to Philadelphia this week to personally announce the assignment of 50 federal agents, investigators, and intelligence analysts to Philadelphia to assist with its violence problems.
The attorney general called it “a surge of federal law enforcement resources, in order to prevent and to combat violent and drug-related crimes across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.”
The Philadelphia area has seen an increase in murders of 8 percent this year, compared to a 30 percent rise in homicides in Chicago during the same time period.
A Philadelphia city spokesperson said, at the time Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter first asked Holder and Vice President Joe Biden for help back in April, Chicago’s murder rate was up 66 percent compared to 2011. Yet it was Philadelphia that got the help from the feds, not Chicago,
“I’m wondering how come Chicago hasn’t been recognized by Mr. Holder, in sending federal agents to support our needs,” said Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), whose ward includes part of the Englewood neighborhood.
The former Chicago police officer turned politician said he is trying to figure out why Chicago seems to have gotten the short end of the federal surge.
He noted Pennsylvania could be a key swing state in the Presidential election, and he wonders if that is a factor in the decision to send federal help to Philadelphia.
“Who knows? Chicago, the president has it,” he said. “Politics is everywhere.”
Politics could be one reason Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to criticize the decision by the Obama administration, seeing as he once served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
“We’re in constant contact with the federal government, where we need it, how we want to use it, and what I don’t want them to do is come and just leave. I want it on a concentrated, constant basis,” Emanuel said.
The mayor said he prefers long-term federal assistance, such as the city has received from the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Englewood and Harrison police districts.
Earlier this month, the mayor said the city’s anti-gang strategies in those districts have led to a 43 percent reduction in murders in the Englewood District, and a 24 percent reduction in murders in Harrison District.
“They are staying there in a concentrated fashion, and they are working with us now – as we make sure that it is working – to then take it into other communities like Roseland, and Austin, and the other communities, so we can make sure we – not just for four months – constantly remove the type of threat of gun violence in the city,” Emanuel said.
For Cochran, that’s not enough.
“I’m sure that, if given the appropriate urge and the push, Mr. Holder will respond to Chicago. And this is what we’re trying to do, urge him to do the same thing in Chicago that he’s done in Philadelphia and then some,” Cochran said.
In response to Cochrans concerns and questions about the decision to assign federal agents to Philadelphia to assist in that city’s violence problems, the Justice Department said, “The Department looks at ways to provide cities with targeted assistance to combat violent crime. … We are examining ways to provide additional support and assistance to the city of Chicago.”
But why Philadelphia already has it and Chicago doesn’t, is hard to say. It could be that overall crime is down 10% in Chicago, that violent crime figures are going down, or even that President Obama doesn’t want to appear to be favoring his home town.
The mayor often talks about the toolbox approach to solving problems, and it’s hard to believe extra federal agents wouldn’t be valuable tools in Chicago’s fight against violence.