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Trump Pledges On Twitter To Help Chicago Fight Crime


President Trump announced today that he is sending more federal help into Chicago to fight crime that, as he says, has reached epidemic proportions. Last year there were more than 760 murders in Chicago, more than the cities of New York and Los Angeles combined. To help us understand what's happening there, Shannon Heffernan of Chicago Public Media joins us. And Shannon, walk us through what the White House announced today. What exactly is planned here?

SHANNON HEFFERNAN, BYLINE: So this announcement didn't actually come directly out of the White House. It was announced by local officials and law enforcement and the ATF. They announced that there would be the creation of a gun strike task force. That will be ATF officers working alongside local officers to solve gun trafficking and solve open murder cases. Those 20 ATF officers will join 40 ATF officers who are already here. The ATF says this is a pretty unique program in terms of its collaboration with local law enforcement and in the fact that it's a permanent task force that won't go away. It's here for the long haul.

In addition, there's going to be cooperation between local and federal prosecutors. The goal there is that they'll be able to prosecute more gun crimes and that they'll be able to prosecute them at higher sentences. So if they can get those prosecutions into the federal system, then people who are prosecuted for gun crimes might get higher or longer sentences.

SIEGEL: What accounts for that huge number of murders in Chicago?

HEFFERNAN: Oh, it...

SIEGEL: Is it mostly gang violence? How do people there understand it?

HEFFERNAN: Well, that's a super complicated question, and there's a lot of different theories and a lot of conflict around what we blame for the high murder rate. You'll have people who say it has to do with poverty and social inequality issues. You'll have people who say it has to do with how many guns flow through the city. You'll have people who say it has to do with the gun - the gang crimes, as you mentioned.

And then you have people like the president's deputy press secretary who said the problem in Chicago right now is a problem with morality. And I think it's that kind of language around the problem of Chicago that you sometimes see Chicagoans bristling at, both citizens and officials bristling at.

SIEGEL: Let's move from morality to moral. Attorney General Sessions says that past anti-crime policies in Chicago have not worked and that the police have been demoralized. What's been tried up to now to rein in violent crime in Chicago?

HEFFERNAN: So we've seen the city take an initiative to hire more police officers and also hire more detectives. There's also new data initiatives that are trying to predict where crime will hit in Chicago. We have seen a slight improvement in the number of murders in Chicago this year compared to this time last year, but it's still pretty high considering what the murder rate has been in previous years.

SIEGEL: Oh, and is the federal involvement - I just wonder if it was announced today. Is it welcomed news in Chicago? Does the mayor welcome this assistance?

HEFFERNAN: So I think it's a complicated response, right? This is something that the mayor has been asking for for a while. He's wanted this - these resources to come to the city. But there's also some tension between the mayor and the Trump administration. So you have people like the mayor's spokesperson saying if the president was interested in taking action on public safety, like, more than tweeting, then we would have seen these resources months ago. So I would say the resources are welcome, but the way that the administration is talking about it - you're seeing some officials bristle at that.

SIEGEL: OK, that's Shannon Heffernan, reporter with the Chicago Public Media. Shannon, thanks so much for talking with us.

HEFFERNAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOEY FEHRENBACH'S "INDIGO ROAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon is a criminal justice reporter. She's also reported on mental health, poverty, labor and climate change. Her reporting has earned her a National Murrow Award for best writing and a PRINDI for best writing, as well as awards from the Illinois AP and Chicago Headline Club. Shannon also writes short fictional stories and has been published Hobart, The Indiana Review and The Columbia Review, where she won the 2016 prize for fiction.She co-founded of Life of the Law, a podcast and multimedia website that tells surprising stories about all things legal.