CHICAGO (AP) — Persistent violent crime prompted a leading Chicago-area politician to criticize Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police chief Thursday, accusing them of putting too much emphasis on locking people up.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made her comments about Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy as she fielded questions at a Union League Club of Chicago event.

“Clearly, this mayor and this police chief have decided the way in which they are going to deal with the terrible violence that faces our community is just arrest everybody,” said Preckwinkle, who, like Emanuel, is a Democrat.

The right approach, she went on, was to focus on improving education.

“We have contented ourselves with a miserable education system that has failed many of our children,” she said.

Her remarks come as the city faces a sharply higher murder rate this year. By the end of November, there had been 470 murders in 2012 compared with 394 during the same 11-month period last year.

After the question-and-answer session at club, Preckwinkle later told reporters she didn’t intended her earlier comments as a personal attack on Emanuel.

“This was a critique of all of us, it wasn’t aimed at the mayor,” she said.

Emanuel’s spokeswoman, Sarah Hamilton, emailed a statement in response later Thursday, saying the mayor agreed with the board president in large part.

“Mayor Emanuel strenuously agrees that a holistic approach is necessary to successfully address crime, which is why he has taken numerous actions to improve our schools and the quality of life for all Chicagoans,” she said.

Emanuel’s strategy, she added, ranged from promoting programs to improve early childhood education and establishing longer school days to community revitalization programs and effort to stem gang violence.

“All of these work in tandem,” Hamilton said. “But let’s make no mistake, criminals deserve to be arrested.”

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