CHICAGO — It’s 4:25 a.m. as the woman rolls her luggage through one of the busiest intersections in Chicago, the heart of Wicker Park. She’s probably heading to the nearby Damen Blue Line station, possibly heading to O’Hare. She won’t make it.
Unbeknownst to her, a silver car pulls into the left turn lane behind her as she begins to cross North Avenue. It’s loaded with an armed robbery crew, including at least one armed with a rifle. They’re in the middle of a crime spree, and they’ve already decided to introduce themselves.
She crosses the street as the silver car moves toward her. It’s still moving when a rifleman in the back seat opens his door, preparing to cut her off. He jumps out, pointing the business end of the weapon at her head, as his accomplices pour from the car to shake her down.
The gunman turns his attention to the six-way intersection, looking out for witnesses and cops as his buddies take everything of interest from the woman. When an SUV pulls to a stop for the red light on North Avenue, the rifleman directs his gun toward its driver and waves them through the intersection. Wisely, the motorist complies.
A city surveillance camera recorded the whole thing as it happened on September 23. Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications refused to hand over the footage when we asked for it a few hours later via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Yesterday, thanks to some arm-twisting by the Illinois attorney general’s office, the city changed its tune. Watch:
After driving away, the crew stopped again about a block down. They clocked that victim in the head with the butt of a rifle.
CPD surveillance officers who reviewed the video you just watched radioed descriptions of the men and their car to patrol units. The car’s left headlight was out, cops were told. The back right window was broken, probably because the car was stolen and the thieves had to break the glass to get inside.
A few minutes later, the holdup crew displayed at least one rifle to rob another woman in the 900 block of West Randolph in the West Loop. The robbers hit her in the face. They rolled up on another woman around the same time, near Lake and Elizabeth streets.
A Chicago police sergeant spotted the robbers’ getaway car as they drove through the West Loop. He mentioned it on the radio but did not pursue it.
Across Chicago, robbery reports are up 24% from last year and 38% from 2019.
The increase is primarily due to incessant armed robbery sprees like the one that popped up on September 23: Small groups of young men, usually traveling in stolen cars, sometimes committing more than a dozen robberies at a time.
But the Chicago Police Department has become so risk-averse that its supervisors almost always order patrol officers to terminate pursuits of violent offenders, even if the cops see an armed robbery committed firsthand.
Chicago has paid out tens of millions of dollars for lives lost and injuries caused by pursuits that ended with crashes. The police department’s written policy explicitly states that no officer will ever be punished for not chasing a suspect. And CPD supervisors have become so skittish about the possibility of something going wrong they’ve even ordered cops to stop pursuing a car suspected of carrying wanted murderers.
Of course, there’s a trade-off when the city discourages pursuits to save money and reduce the possibility of injury to third parties. That trade-off is that armed, violent people are not apprehended, and they continue to commit crimes.
Chicago police have been relying on Illinois State Police troopers, whose pursuit policy is less restrictive than CPD’s, to help with vehicle chases. And ISP has been effective when their units are available.
Earlier this month, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) announced that he wants Chicago cops to have the same vehicle pursuit parameters as state troopers.
“I’m working closely with some attorneys around drafting that language so that we can make sure that it fits within the parameters of the Illinois State Police. And again, if the Illinois State Police are doing this, there’s no reason why CPD can’t do this,” Villegas said, according to Block Club Chicago.