PI Original Adam Doster Tuesday July 20th, 2010, 3:16pm

Are More Cops The Answer? An Interview With Tracy Siska

The death of a third Chicago police officer in two months has led to an uproar over the ongoing summer crime wave.  We asked Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project about the causes of the violence and the best approaches government can take to mitigate it.

On Thursday, a wake will be held for Michael Bailey, the third Chicago police officer murdered in the past two months (and the second to be slain while off-duty). Bailey is also one of 244 Chicagoans who have been killed since the beginning of the year, a troubling figure that is rising as the summer months drag on.

The Daley administration's response to this latest burst of violence, aside from championing its new handgun ordinance, is to hire 100 more police officers to fill a portion of CPD's staffing shortfall. According to Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, this focus ignores deeper questions about the cause of violence and the best approaches government can take to mitigate it. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation this afternoon:

We noticed on Twitter yesterday that you weren't too happy with John Kass' Tribune column on the police murder in Chicago Sunday. What riled you up about it?

Rightly or wrongly, Kass has this really strong opinion -- one could say an agenda -- that the Chicago Police Department is seriously understaffed. In his latest column, it seems like he's asserting -- or at least inferring -- that [this trend] had some effect on this police officer or the others this summer being killed. And the reality is that has nothing to do with why these officers got killed. They were robberies that went wrong; they didn't have anything to do with police staffing.

So you think he's drawing a false correlation between understaffing and increased violence?

Correct. If you talk to most cops who have experience and know what they are doing, they realize that they don't have that tremendous an impact on violence and that they are not the solution or reducing violence in Chicago. To be more specific, they aren't a long-term solution.

What are the long-term solutions?

Well, it's pretty much like anyone thinks: jobs, education, social programs. If you can't employ people and you can't educate them, it's hard to imagine how you're going to stop the violence.

What do you think about the Daley administration's response to these murders, which is to drop 100 more cops into the streets?

It's completely, 100 percent insufficient. It's smoke and mirrors. You know, he was quoted in the Trib today as saying "education and churches are the real answers to street violence." Really?  What about employment? You would think that the city could hold its leaders responsible for its lack of ability to build employment in communities.

Why is the mayor so reluctant to talk about the employment in this context?

Because the person held most responsible for a lack of the city's response to build employment in these communities is himself. When you push it off and look at the criminal justice system for the response, you can always say its their fault. Its much easier to say 'its their fault' than it is to say 'it's my fault.' If you look at the 20-year history of the mayor ... how many factories and large employers have been brought to the city? How much have we spent in [tax increment financing] money to subsidize employment in these communities compared to what we've spent in the 2nd Ward?

Is there a connection between the Daley administration's response to the recent murders and the gun ban ruling?

To some extent, I would say that's true. It's up in the air what real effect the gun ban plays in reducing violence. You can focus on that and say you're doing something when in reality nobody is really sure how much you're doing. And once again, it's not a long-term strategy.

What do you think about the heightened media attention on these cop shootings?

I understand it, but I think the outcry over how daring these people are to shoot cops makes a few huge assumptions. One: That the shooter knew they were cops when they shot them. Two: That they don't give a shit now, but they would have cared five years ago, which is a totally unfounded assumption working off no facts. Three: That shooting a normal community person is not as bad as shooting a cop. Where are the people who are all up-in-arms about a cop being shot -- which is a horrible thing -- when there are eight murders on the weekend?


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