Weis announces new strategies to fight crime

Tracking homicide numbers has long been - whether fair or not - an important measure of how well the police department is doing its job. In the first four months of 2008, there have been 134 murders in Chicago. That's 11 more than in the same period last year. Aggravated batteries are also higher.

The new superintendent is re-working some crime-fighting strategies. His moves involve assignments, firepower, and dress.

Part of the strategy includes deploying SWAT team members and other specialized officers in full battle dress to crime hot spots. The measure began last month and will continue. Critics believe it to be cosmetic and meant to intimidate. The superintendent sees it as a deterrent.

"I don't want people to think we're going into war, but I think it does send a strong message. If they're in SWAT-type uniform and you're driving through the neighborhood visible, interacting with neighbors and community members, it sends a strong message and serves as a deterrent to violence," said Supt. Jody Weis, Chicago Police Department.

Weis is also moving ahead with plans to equip - within the next three years - all 1,700 of the department's patrol cars with M-4 carbines, a semi-automatic rifle that SWAT team members now carry. Putting them in squads will require training for every officer authorized to use an M-4.

Weis said he wants the M-4's for officer safety, and because - in certain deadly force situations - they are more accurate and reliable than a standard issue sidearm.

The police also showed off a 'bearcat,' a 16,000 pound, armor-plated, bomb-protected vehicle meant to deliver SWAT team members into destinations under fire.

Adding armed muscle - particularly the plan for M-4 carbines in patrol cars - has heightened concern in some higher-crime neighborhoods that ramped up firepower - whether used or not - will put more distance between police and community.

"I hope they never have to use it. I hope they never have to pull that weapon out of the trunk of their car. But if they do, I will make sure they're trained and if they do, they'll be doing it to save a life, either their own or some innocent individual," said Weis.

The department has used its Targeted Response Unit (TRU) to flood crime hot spots with a lot of officers. TRU will now be reduced by 90 officers and officers will be reassigned to work out of their districts.

Police say that should not be seen as a move to de-emphasize special units, and say it is meant to use resources more wisely.

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