CHICAGO — Chicago Police Supt. David Brown spoke at length last year about the department’s efforts to take illegal guns off the street.
CPD officers, Brown said, recovered more than 12,000 illegal firearms throughout 2021. Brown frequently posited that “each gun recovered by a Chicago police officer is a potential deadly force encounter and a potential life saved.”
And while the CPD did take in more guns in 2021 than in 2020, the actual number of firearms recovered by CPD officers last year during their tours of service was far less than 12,000. Meanwhile, Chicago recorded more than 800 homicides in 2021, a threshold not reached in 25 years, according to the Chicago Tribune.
WGN Investigates obtained data from the CPD that detailed the number of guns recovered by officers per month in each of the city’s 22 police districts from January 2019 through November 2021.
CPD officers recovered 7,823 guns in 2019, averaging about 651 guns per month. The next year, officers took in 9,233 guns, about 770 per month, according to CPD data.
From Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, 2021, CPD officers recovered 8,854 guns — an average of 805 per month. Of those, 7,134 gun recoveries netted an arrest.
The number of guns taken in by CPD officers in December 2021 was not immediately available. The rest of the guns that were counted toward 2021’s overall total came from gun turn-in and buy-back events, according to the CPD.
In a statement to WGN Investigates, the CPD said: “Gun recoveries encompass various methods in which firearms are taken off the streets of Chicago. These methods range from long term gun trafficking investigations to investigatory stops, as well as community gun turn-in events. The majority of these guns are recovered by the men and women of the Chicago Police Department at great personal risk. Day in and day out, officers put themselves in harm[‘]s way to remove these weapons from our city’s neighborhoods and hold the individuals in possession of them accountable. Each recovered gun, no matter how it is recovered, is a potential life saved.”
One such turn-in program is operated at St. Sabina Parish on the South Side.
The church’s pastor, Fr. Michael Pfleger, said the program was started in March 2021 after the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village. A benefactor put up money that allows St. Sabina to offer $100 to $200 for every gun that’s turned in at the church. So far, the church has doled out about $50,000.
Pfleger praised his local police commander, Senora Ben of the Gresham District, who, he said, was very supportive of the buy-back program. Every week or so, Pfleger will call Ben to tell her that the church has another collection of guns to turn in. On average, Pfleger said, the church will take in about one gun per day. However, Pfleger said, he’s heard nothing from CPD leadership regarding the buy-back program.
“In my district, with my commander, it’s a great relationship,” Pfleger said. “From the moment we talked about doing this after the man donated the money, we reached out to [CPD] headquarters at 35th Street. We’ve never received any response back from them. We never received one comment from them. Never to say, ‘Hey, you’ve gotten hundreds of guns off the street, we’re grateful, we’re thankful.’ Nothing.”
Data from the CPD also show that, in more than 500 instances between 2019 and 2021, the department was unable to say in which district a gun was recovered.
That apparent lack of data integrity is in line with three reports issued by Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General in recent years.
The OIG found that the CPD’s records management procedures left the city open to liability in civil cases and also jeopardized criminal prosecutions.
““This is an area of very serious risk for CPD and for the City,” an OIG report from 2021 reads. “In criminal litigation, CPD’s failure to identify and produce records and information in its possession might undermine criminal prosecutions or lead to vacated convictions. In civil litigation, the same failures may result in significant legal and financial liability.”