US & Canada

Five ways Trump can help solve Chicago gun crime

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Media captionLife and death on the lost streets of Chicago

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to intervene in Chicago, where local law enforcement have struggled with the city's intractable problem with violence.

"Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help," he tweeted on Friday.

More than 760 people were killed in Chicago in 2016, a 58% increase from the previous year and more than the number of New York and Los Angeles murders combined. The city also saw more than 4,300 people shot.

This year Chicago police have pointed to some progress in the first half of 2017 - a 14% drop in shootings. But the murder rate remains largely unchanged.

So what can the president do to help?

Stop the flow of illegal guns

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City officials on Friday announced the creation of the Chicago Gun Strike Force, comprised of city police officers, Illinois state troopers, federal agents and intelligence research specialists.

The Trump administration sent an additional 20 permanent agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), "reallocating federal prosecutors and prioritising prosecutions to reduce gun violence", according to a Department of Justice statement.

An estimated 40 ATF agents have already been working with local and state police on reducing gun violence in Chicago.

Police also announced the bureau would lend the city a mobile ballistics lab during the summer months, when shootings and murders tend to spike.

The specialised team will work to curb the flow of illegal guns as well as with state and federal prosecutors to target repeat gun offenders, who authorities say are responsible for the city's violence problem.

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Media captionChicago killings: 'It's like crates of guns got dropped off'

The Chicago Police Department estimates 60% of guns recovered at crime scenes in the city between 2009 and 2013 were first purchased outside of Illinois, according to a 2014 report. Nearly 20% came from Indiana, where gun laws have made it relatively easy to obtain illegal weapons.

According to Indiana law, federally licensed gun dealers are required to perform standard background checks, but vendors are not when it comes to private sales or selling at gun shows.

The city has recovered an illegal handgun for every hour of 2016 - more than 6,000 - Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has previously said.

Overhaul housing

A lot of the violence is driven by the social disadvantages that have scarred many of the low-income minority neighbourhoods in the past, said Robert J Sampson, a Harvard professor and the author of Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.

It is these distressed communities, he added, where the spike in homicides mostly occurs.

One of the biggest contributing factors to crime is Chicago's housing crisis in these concentrated areas, said Lance Williams, the associate director of the Jacob H Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University.

The Trump administration could require developers who receive government subsidies to incorporate low-income housing in some of the new building cropping up in the South and West Loop neighbourhoods, or provide vouchers to displaced families, Mr Williams suggested.

To reduce the stress, federal officials could also work with the city to create rent caps for low-income families as more young, white affluent resident move to those parts of the city, he added.


Invest in after-school programmes

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"Whenever there is unstable housing, you're going to find kids unable to perform in school," Mr Williams said.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is entangled in a state budget battle that resulted in it borrowing more than $300m (£231m) to pay the teacher's pension fund and to keep the doors open through the end of the school year.

While CPS faces cuts and more financial turmoil, the federal government could assist by providing more resources for afterschool programmes that focus on violence intervention, improving social responses and job training to help make young people more competitive in the job market.

In fact, the University of Chicago Crime Lab found a 43% reduction in violent crime arrests for youths who obtained eight-week, part-time employment through its One Summer Chicago Plus jobs programme, compared with young people who did not participate.

"Even prior to creating jobs, you're going to need some social skills training and basic support for these kids to make them employable," Mr Williams added.


Federal assistance for jobs

Joblessness is dire among the city's youth, especially for African Americans males in Chicago's racially segregated neighbourhoods that also have high rates of poverty and crime.

According to recent report published by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 47% of 20- to 24-year-old black men in Chicago were out of school and unemployed in 2014 compared with 20% of Hispanic men and 10% of white men in the same age group.

The report looked at the lost tax revenue that resulted in urban youth unemployment and found that the federal and state governments lose nearly $9.5bn in potential taxes.

John Hagedorn, a criminology professor at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), told the BBC the Trump administration could help by addressing the desperation the city's youth are facing.

Part of the president's trillion-dollar infrastructure plan could include targeting Chicago's areas of concentrated crime.

The government could hire local residents as part of a large-scale public works project to rebuild the housing and infrastructure in these areas, similar to what the US did after the Great Depression, he added.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and congresswoman Robin Kelly have introduced a measure that would offer tax breaks to businesses who hire at-risk youth and provide grants to local communities to promote job opportunities for the youth.


More police resources

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Putting more police on the ground will not stop the bloodshed, said Mr Williams.

Instead, the city should be focusing on improving community relations and restoring public trust after fallout over a video released showing the police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014.

The Trump administration could assist by funding better police training and supporting programmes that bolster police-community relations.

Along with targeting more gun traffickers, the justice department could focus on police accountability and prosecuting officers in cases of unlawful use of deadly force, Mr Hagedorn added.

"If you want cooperation you have to demonstrate some good faith, and there hasn't been much from Chicago police," he added.

"More than bringing in a task force and saying it's guns or drugs, we need a little bit more of an understanding of what's actually going on."

Laquan McDonald: How a Chicago teenager was shot dead by police

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