Repeat offenders key source of many Chicago homicides
We have become very familiar with the faces and stories of some of the city’s murder victims, but who are the alleged perpetrators? In tonight’s Cover Story, Gaynor Hall takes a closer look at those believed to be responsible for deadly violence in Chicago.
A WGN-TV analysis of police records found the overwhelming majority of those arrested for homicide in Chicago in 2012 have something in common. They are repeat offenders.
Jerry Austin, 36, grew up in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood. He says he got his first gun at age 12.
“I was just infatuated with the lifestyle,” said Austin.
At age 14, he picked up his first gun charge. He was charged with attempted murder at age 16, and he was charged with murder 4 years later. He says he shot and killed a man who had previously shot and robbed him.
“I can’t say no one told me right from wrong. I just chose to do what I was doing and that led me to prison,” said Austin.
With more than 500 homicides in Chicago in 2012, targeting repeat offenders is a top priority for law enforcement.
“We do have a younger group of kids that are serious repeat offenders. We know as criminologists that repeat offenders account for a much larger percentage of the violent crime,” said Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum, professor of criminal justice and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
More than 200 people have been arrested for homicides that happened in Chicago in 2012 and 15-percent were 14-to-17 years old. Out of the adults, at least 90-percent had an arrest history in Chicago and more than a third of them were previously charged with weapons-related offenses, according to police data.
Most of last year’s murders remain unsolved.
“The majority of cases of people killing other people in Chicago, we don’t know who did it and that is a big problem. The police, we are working with them to develop new capacities for investigating homicide cases and applying the best available science, but science will only take us so far if the community who knows who committed the crime will not step forward,” said Rosenbaum.
Police officials say they are working to build trust and break the code of silence. One CPD crime-fighting strategy called “hot people policing” uses data and technology to try to predict the next possible offender or victim, based on their criminal backgrounds, associates, and gang ties.
The department is also focused on seizing illegal guns.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez have joined forces, urging Illinois lawmakers to increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun violations.
“The people who are out there illegally having guns and creating all this violence are the criminals, the gang bangers,” said Alvarez. “If we can keep them off the streets longer I think we will see a decrease because they won’t be there to shoot up a corner.”
Critics argue mandatory minimums are a one-size fits all approach to a multi-layered problem.
“ You can give somebody 100 years. It’s not going to change them, unless they want to be changed,” said Austin. He admits he was a drug dealer and a gang member. He spent much of his life in-and-out of lockup.
“I was trying at first to go to school. You tell yourself that when you’re incarcerated, like I’m going to do this right. I’m going to do that. I fell right back off into the lunacy,” said Austin.
He says his mother tried to get him on the right track. She died while he was in prison. He is on home confinement now, living with a relative in Dolton. Fifteen years behind bars for murder gave him a lot of time to reflect. “ I do have a heart and I wasn’t raised like that,” said Austin. “After a while, it started to bother you like I actually took somebody’s life.”
Rosenbaum says the challenge is catching kids early and it is not the responsibility of police alone.
“It’s no secret, the kids who are at risk. The school teachers can tell you, the neighborhood can tell you, the police mostly can tell you. It’s about what we’re going to do to intervene, and there’s a lot that can be done,” said Rosenbaum. He says breaking the cycle of violent crime means rebuilding struggling neighborhoods and focusing on education, respectful policing, and community involvement.
Since his release from prison, Jerry Austin has been volunteering for Ceasefire, sharing his story with at-risk youth. This time, he says he is determined to stay on the right path.