By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — Chicago’s police department is following a familiar playbook for the July 4 holiday by flooding the street with officers and arresting dozens of people on drugs and weapons charges in the hopes of keeping them locked up during what is typically one of the most violent weekends of the year.
On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that more than 1,500 extra officers will hit the streets, parks and lakefront.
The department said uniformed and undercover officers will be assigned to the lakefront and Navy Pier during the annual fireworks show that’s expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people, and they’ll be working known crime hotspots in the city for the entire weekend.
At a news conference Wednesday, police talked about three separate operations over the past 30 days that resulted in a total of 170 arrests on gun and narcotics charges, the seizure of 38 guns and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of illegal drugs. They said the most recent effort, called “Operation Independence,” ended Tuesday with the arrests of 77 people — 34 of whom are convicted felons.
The department has conducted similar operations ahead of the three warm weather holidays — Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day — in previous years, and they make no secret of the timing; they try to net as many people who are disproportionately involved in violent crime either as suspects or victim on days when the crowds in the city’s parks, tourist areas and streets are historically the largest.
“That’s always the goal,” First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio said Wednesday. “If we can take them out of play for that whole time or part of that time, it’s going to make those communities a safer place.”
Police have added 1,000 more regular officers in recent years and expanded the use of gunshot detection technology and other high tech crime fighting equipment, resulting in a drop in violent crime. Just this week, the department announced there were fewer homicides and shootings in the first six months of 2019 than during the same period in each of the previous three years.
At the same time, in a city that continues to have far more homicides than New York and Los Angeles, there continues to be eruptions of violence. Last weekend, 50 people were shot. And despite the deployment of an extra 1,200 officers in the city, at least 43 people were shot over Memorial Day weekend, seven of them fatally.
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