Posted on December 21, 2022

As Chicago Nears 700 Murders for 3rd Straight Year, Mayor’s Race Focuses on Public Safety

Heather Cherone, WTTW, December 20, 2022

Chicago will likely end 2022 with approximately 700 murders for the third year in a row, a bloodless statistic that belies the deep trauma experienced by many Chicagoans exposed to the crime and violence that also threatens the city’s economic vitality.

The surge of crime and violence that peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic but has yet to recede has imperiled Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s bid for a second term, even as the eight major candidates running to unseat her offer wildly different solutions to the seemingly intractable problem.

More than 70% of voters rated crime and public safety as their No. 1 or No. 2 most important issue, with no other issue coming close, according to a recent poll paid for by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which has endorsed U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García.

While acknowledging that Chicago voters are concerned about public safety, Lightfoot has declined to shift her strategy — and has steadfastly supported Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, her hand-picked choice to serve as the city’s top cop. That has left the mayor vulnerable to criticism from both the left and right, narrowing her path to a second term.

All of Lightfoot’s challengers would immediately fire Brown, saying he has not kept Chicagoans safe, and he has failed to implement the reforms required by the federal court order spurred by a probe that found officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.

“The No. 1 issue on everyone’s lips, around kitchen tables is public safety, public safety, public safety,” Lightfoot told reporters Wednesday. “We make adjustments all the time depending on what the circumstances are.”

Lightfoot said she is “happy” that homicides are down 15% as compared with 2021. However, 2021 was the most violent year in Chicago since the mid-1990s, with more than 800 people killed.

In 2019, fewer than 500 murders took place in Chicago — and when Brown took office in April 2020, he said he would strive to end the year with fewer than 300 murders. Instead, more than 700 people were killed in the city in 2020, according to police department data.


Lightfoot indicated she was prepared to make her case against candidates “who have associated themselves with defunding the police.”


A strategy memo from the Lightfoot campaign obtained by Crain’s indicated the mayor planned to use that line of attack against García, who has been a high-profile member of the Progressive Caucus in the U.S House.


Mayoral candidate and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson has endorsed the “treatment not trauma” plan authored by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) that calls for publicly run mental-health clinics to be reopened and for social workers, not police officers, to respond to 911 calls for help from those experiencing a mental health crisis.

Johnson also authored a nonbinding resolution in the summer of 2020 that called for county officials to “redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services not administered by law enforcement that promote community health and safety equitably” after the police murder of George Floyd touched off a wave of social justice protests and unrest.


When he entered the race for mayor, Johnson said the issue of public safety had been “manipulated” by politicians using “blatant racist stereotypes” and vowed to address the structural inequity that pervades Chicago and fuels violent crime.


Lightfoot is also likely to face criticism from progressive candidates for failing to fulfill her 2019 campaign promise to ensure “full and swift compliance” with the consent decree, a federal court order that requires the Police Department to stop routinely violating the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.

The latest report from the team keeping tabs on the Police Department’s progress found that while officials have made significant progress in rewriting policies, those changes have yet to result in tangible reforms apparent to Chicagoans.

As a candidate for mayor in 2019, Lightfoot wrote that “communities will not be safe and the police will not be successful in their core mission to serve and protect, if there is no trust between the two. People must genuinely believe that the police are legitimate and a force for good, and the police must believe that respectful, constitutional engagement with the community is their most powerful tool.”

But as crime rose during the pandemic, Lightfoot’s focus turned to efforts to crackdown on those suspected of violent crimes. Lightfoot relentlessly criticized Cook County officials and judges, blaming them for releasing people awaiting trial on charges of violent crime.

An effort to fight crime by giving the city the power to seize the assets of gangs and adult gang leaders faltered amid a wall of opposition from progressive members of the City Council, despite efforts by Lightfoot to muscle it through the City Council.

A similar deluge of criticism greeted Lightfoot’s plan to expand and extend the city’s curfew for teens, prompted by the murder of a 16-year-old in Millenium Park. {snip}

Lightfoot’s turn toward an enforcement-first approach did not spare her serious challenges from more conservative candidates in the race for mayor.


While the poll from Local 150 that pinpointed public safety as voters’ top concern showed García finishing ahead of Lightfoot in the first round of voting, which would send both candidates to an April 4 runoff, by Paul Vallas, the former head of the Chicago Public Schools and budget director under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, was close behind.

Vallas said his approach to public safety would center on efforts to reverse rules that have “literally handcuffed” officers, “demoralizing” them and making “proactive policing” impossible. {snip}