2 state reps want Nat'l Guard to fight gun violence

April 25, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Reps. John Fritchey (D-11th) of the North Side of Chicago and LaShawn Ford (D-8th) of the city's West Side have advocated the deployment of the National Guard to assist an undermanned police department with combating the seemingly endless shooting of children.

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, however, has said that the military is not the answer.

This is not the first time someone has proposed getting the Guard involved in crime- fighting in Chicago.

20 years ago, concern with rampant drug dealing on the West Side was so great that then-Governor Jim Thompson was asked to send in the National Guard. He declined, and so have other governors in a number of cases since then where frustration over street crime has hit fever pitch.

With the recent increase in crime, the suggestion has once again come up.

"We're not talking about rolling tanks down the street," said Fritchey. "If we bring them in to fill sand bags and pick up tornado debris, we can bring them in to save lives."

There have been similar requests in Chicago's history to send in the guard, usually after high profile incidents or stretches of violent crime, but it doesn't happen.

"When people are scared they want to take extreme measures, and extreme measures are oftentimes a mistake," said Prof. Dennis Rosenbaum, a criminologist with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Rosenbaum said military training does not extend to search and seizure, evidence protection, and Miranda rights. He added that using the guard as a policing agency in an urban area invites big issues, an opinion shared by Supt. Weis.

"As much as I would love to have as much help as possible, I'm not sure that mixing the National Guard with local law enforcement is the solution," Weis said Sunday.

Solutions are elusive, but one of the strategies police have long used is to flood crime hot spots with officers and then maintain a presence to diagnose issues and players.

"It's kind of a weed and seed strategy," said Prof. Rosenbaum. "You need to take out the repeat offenders, but you need to build up the capacity of the community and others to guard against future events."

Police say that the majority of Chicago's crime is concentrated in 9 percent of its city blocks. However, even with the focus on those dangerous areas, there is frustration over a code of silence.

"We had an individual killed last night, and the person he was with has been shot and refuses to cooperate with us at this time," said Weis. "The shooters again go free."

Silence remains a key problem, particularly since a significant portion of shootings in Chicago involve gangs.

Even in recent cases where children are caught in the crossfire and people saw the incident themselves, witnesses can be reluctant or refuse to come forward.

Police already struggle with the problem, and critics of the Guard idea say that the National Guard is simply not equipped to deal with it.

Governor Pat Quinn would make the decision on the Guard request. Sunday night, a spokesman for the governor said the office had no comment.

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