Chicago's gun tips program not panning out as planned

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Chicago’s woes with violent crime are well-documented and well-known. We’ve spilled plenty of digital ink over the topic throughout the years, as have many other publications. Nothing about this is shocking.

A while back, though, Mayor Lori Lightfoot pledged $1 million to pay for tips that led to the arrests over illegal guns.

It sounded like the kind of thing that would play well with the press, even if it didn’t do anything.

However, it seems the plan didn’t work, which isn’t shocking. What’s more shocking is how it didn’t work.

Under pressure to address skyrocketing street crime last summer, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a $1 million reward program for people who report illegal guns.

“I want you to know that I recognize that people are scared. People all over the city. This is the topic of conversation,” Lightfoot said as she announced the fund’s creation in July 2021. “Gun violence is holding us back from realizing our individual potential and our potential and greatness as a city.”

In the year since Lightfoot announced the initiative, however, the city has only paid out $10,395 to tipsters, according to the police department. The program has generated criticism that it was poorly thought out and executed. It also illustrates how Lightfoot has at times addressed violent crime and deflected criticism with headline-generating ideas that falter.

Now, let’s be clear here, this wasn’t Lightfoot’s worst idea. There’s ample reason to believe it should have worked as advertised. It didn’t.

Yet that didn’t deflect criticism.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who considered running for mayor and leads a nonprofit aimed at violence prevention, this week told the Tribune the $1 million program was flawed. The amount of guns on the street are a problem, Duncan said, but the deeper issue is a failure by police to arrest and hold shooters accountable. The vast majority of shooters don’t get charged, Duncan said, which helps give rise to retaliatory violence.

“Strategies that aren’t thought out, that aren’t thoughtful, that aren’t implemented, that’s almost like the worst possible scenario. This stuff is really hard, it’s complex, but headlines and P.R. don’t keep people alive,” Duncan said in an interview. “The fact that this is literally a matter of life and death and the fact we are losing so many lives is untenable. This is the crisis facing our city.”

That’s true. Shooters should be held accountable. However, the question here is why shooters aren’t being charged, and there may be a reason that also touches on why the tip plan failed.

I mean, let’s be clear, paying for tips is a tried and true concept. There’s usually someone who is more greedy than scared, so they step up for the reward.

That clearly didn’t happen. After a year, only a little over $10,000 was paid out, which means something is overriding that sense of greed.

Generally, that’s one of two things: Fear or distrust.

See, the people who know and aren’t talking are either too scared to come forward, or they’re too distrustful of the authority offering the reward to come forward.

Both of those will play a factor in charging criminals as well.

Obviously, not all. When the chief prosecutor won’t charge people in a two-way gunfight, citing “mutual combat” for some idiotic reason, then you’ve got a big problem.

But a lot of other prosecutions may not be happening because folks in Chicago are either too scared to report anyone for anything or are too distrustful of the police to do so. That’s probably where authorities need to focus their attention if they want to actually get a handle on the problems in the Windy City.

Whether it’s Lightfoot or Duncan replacing her, that’s got to be done.