New top cop brings big changes to police force

June 20, 2011 8:33:22 PM PDT
School is out in Chicago and that typically signals a spike in crime that can last much of the summer season.

This year, under the direction of new superintendent Garry McCarthy, Chicago police are tackling crime in new ways, even targeting acts that may previously been ignored.

McCarthy has been on the job 36 days. In that time he's told officers to no longer look the other way on minor infractions like curfew, public drunkenness or fighting. It's the "broken windows" theory of policing where if you overlook some crimes others will follow. And it is just one of many big changes in the way Chicago is being policed.

To hear him explain it, the solution sounds simple: small problems lead to big ones, so nip them in the bud.

"Curfew violations, just think about it. If we get all these kids off the streets at night they're not there to become victims of crime," McCarthy told ABC7's Ben Bradley.

On the job just over a month, McCarthy is already redeploying officers. He has dismantled for 90 days - and perhaps forever - the department's Mobile Strike Force and Targeted Response Units, military style squads of officers that swarm areas when crime flares up.

"These task forces have no connection with the community. They don't know who the good kids and who the bad kids are and guess what? They all kinda sorta look the same. The one kid who is stopping on the corner, the one kid who is always standing on the corner," said McCarthy.

The city's budget deficit won't allow him to hire new officers. So he is simply re-assigning them - 650 in all - cops who used to be assigned to special teams or administrative duties.

"So what's not getting done?" ask ABC7's Ben Bradley. "That's a good question. It certainly seems like we're still standing...Every police officer in this agency has to realize that's their job, is to go out and do police work."

McCarthy measures his success day by day. On Monday he was reviewing weekly stats. They show there were seven murders in the city last week compared to 14 the same week one year ago. The number of shootings dropped from 50 to 40.

Still, last week saw a surge of violence in Humboldt Park. First a 15-year-old was shot on his birthday. Two days later his best friend was shot and killed by police after he allegedly pointed a gun at them.

"Maybe people think it's okay to carry a firearm and that the police should do what? Get shot? No, that's not the case," he said.

This summer, McCarthy promises his officers will look for the little things that can lead to bigger problems, whether they happen on street corners or at the Taste of Chicago.

"Running through crowds, bumping into people, making excessive noise, things of that nature. We can now intervene and stop it from escalating," said McCarthy.

McCarthy knows he must also fight the perception of crime. For example, after a recent rash of mob attacks downtown he says there's nothing new about groups of young people intimidating and robbing others from time to time. He says the number of robberies is actually down but as long as people don't feel safe, stats mean little.

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