CHICAGO (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder announced in Chicago on Monday that the federal government would make more money available to help the nation’s third largest city fight persistent street violence.
Holder made that pledge during brief comments at the ceremonial swearing-in for northern Illinois’ new U.S. attorney, Zachary Fardon. Fardon has faced a chorus of calls from politicians to make gang, drug and gun crimes that underpin violence in Chicago his top priority.
In the prepared remarks to a federal courtroom packed with judges and lawmakers — including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk — Holder did not specify how much money would be coming the city’s way.
He alluded to long-running differences over how to bring down street violence in Chicago, saying, “This is simply not a time for institutional friction.”
“We must be realistically impatient and results-demanding,” he said.
Some of the disagreement has been between Fardon and Mayor Emanuel, who last month said prosecutors were doing a poor job enforcing federal gun laws in Chicago. Asked in an interview last week about Emanuel’s comment, Fardon said, “I respectfully disagree.”
In broad comments about where the federal help could be directed, Holder mentioned hiring new Chicago-based agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF. He said money could also be freed up to allow more beat officers to walk city streets.
Amid budgetary constraints imposed by Congress, at least some of the funds could come from assets convicted drug traffickers are forced to forfeit, said Holder.
Chicago’s killings topped 500 last year — the first time it hit that mark since 2008. Though the homicide rate has declined in 2013, the slaying early this year of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton a mile from President Barack Obama’s South Side home put the issue of Chicago violence back in the national headlines.
After Monday’s ceremony, Durbin, a Democrat, and Kirk, a Republican, heralded Holder’s assurances about new money, despite the lack of specifics. The two lawmakers have been the most outspoken about the need for Fardon to focus on street violence.
“We are waiting for the details,” Durbin said about Holder’s announcement. “But this is good news for Chicago.”
Fardon, 47, replaces Patrick Fitzgerald, who resigned from the high-profile post last year to enter private practice. As a then-assistant to Fitzgerald, Fardon helped convict former Illinois Gov. George Ryan of corruption in 2006.
In his remarks earlier Monday at his otherwise festive swearing-in, Fardon went out of his way to broach the challenge of changing the course of violent crime in Chicago — calling the issue “an elephant that’s been in the room all year.”
Stemming the persistently high number of homicides in Chicago would require the participation of the community, as well as municipal and federal agencies, Fardon said.
“It’s a tall order. And so be it,” he said. “We will succeed.”
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