On Tuesday, as he is often prone to do, President Donald Trump made a policy announcement on Twitter. This time, he threatened to send the feds into Chicago unless the city made better progress fighting crime:
So far in 2017, according to the Chicago crime blog Hey Jackass! (which is far more credible than its name suggests), 45 people have been murdered in the Windy City. Chicago is on track to have its deadliest January since 2009. All but one of those murders is the result of a gunshot.
In response, Congressman Justin Amash (R-Michigan) mocked Trump on Twitter:
Amash is right. Donald Trump cannot just send in the feds. The federal government has no jurisdiction over combating street crime and rightly so. The Tenth Amendment leaves such responsibilities to state and local governments. And while there are some concerns that have been raised over the Chicago Police Department’s willingness to actually enforce the law, that does not give Trump license to seize control of the situation.
Federal law bans the use of the military for civil policing duties. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which was passed in the wake of Reconstruction, outlaws the use of the military in civil policing except after being authorized by Congress. It’s hard to imagine Congress passing legislation that allows the military to police Chicago.
Additionally, the Insurrection Act forbids the deployment of the military to suppress lawlessness without a prior request from the governor. The only exception is if it has become impossible to enforce the law without federal troops and the crime has become a threat to the liberties and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution. Even the most hysterical hot take about Chicago’s crime wave will admit we aren’t even close to that point.
What’s more likely is a new focus by federal law enforcement on some of the gangs that are the causes of Chicago’s crime wave. The last major nationwide federal gang crackdown came under the George W. Bush administration in 2005 and 2006. Operation Community Shield was organized by the Department of Homeland Security and coordinated Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and it resulted in the arrests of over 2,300 gang members. A similar task force could be set up to deal with Chicago’s gang problem.
While it would likely anger President Trump’s allies at the NRA, there could be a new focus on gun crime in the Chicago area. According to The Trace, which focuses on gun violence, 60 percent of the guns recovered in Chicago, which has strict gun laws, come from outside the state of Illinois. There could be federal action taken on combatting gun smuggling and straw purchases, or on those who buy firearms for others who can’t legally own guns. The ATF could even revoke the Federal Firearms Licenses of gun dealers who knowingly sell to straw purchasers.
Federal law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago could launch a version of Project Exile, which prosecuted felons caught carrying firearms in federal courts. Those sentences would be tougher than those in Cook County courts. The results of Project Exile though have been mixed.
Beyond that, there is very little the federal government can actually do to combat crime in Chicago. The chief responsibility falls to local and state law enforcement, whether they’re doing a good enough job or not.