"We can't put our finger on” specific reasons for the increase, the city's interim police superintendent, John Escalante, said. But he noted the increase coincides with an equally dramatic decrease in the number of street stops made in January.
He noted the decrease comes after a policy change that went into effect this year requiring officers to fill out lengthier forms than the brief “contact cards” they used through 2015. It could be that officers are taking more time to fill out the forms as they adjust to the change, preventing them from making more stops, he said. Officers are going through training now to help them deal with the new forms, he said.
Escalante also said officers have expressed concerns “about being the next viral video. Even when they're doing something right, they're concerned that their actions will be questioned and they will be the one that goes viral.”
Chicago has become a national symbol of gun violence since at least 2012, when the number of homicides climbed past the 500 mark, far higher than any other U.S. city. With police initiating a number of crime-fighting measures and spending millions of dollars on overtime, the city saw the total fall closer to 400 in each of the next two years, and 2014 ended with the fewest homicides in decades. But last year the number of homicides and shooting incidents rose again.
There has been a growing concern that the rising number of shootings and homicides in Chicago, and around the country, can be linked to less aggressive policing following high-profile officer shootings, some of which were caught on camera and inflamed public outrage.
In October, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said officers are going “fetal,” pulling back and second-guessing themselves for fear that scrutiny of their actions would get them into trouble.
Then in late November, the city dealt with one of the biggest crises in Chicago Police Department history — and of Emanuel's political career — sparked by the release of a video showing a white officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged with murder in the shooting, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired and the U.S. Department of Justice launched a civil rights investigation.
Escalante said he does not believe the McDonald video has made officers reluctant to do their jobs. He pointed out that the department didn't have a significant drop in the number of street stops in December.
Also on Monday, the Chicago Tribune released a poll that found Emanuel's job approval rating has dropped to 27 percent, the lowest in his administration. This is a drop from 52 percent in late March 2015, before his April re-election.
The poll of 985 city voters conducted Jan. 20 to 28 had an error rate of plus or minus 3.2 percent.
Three out of four voters said they did not believe Emanuel's statements about the McDonald shooting. Protesters have said officials took too long to charge Van Dyke and release the video, and have called for Emanuel's resignation.