Could Nat'l Guard curb Chicago's violence?

April 26, 2010 (CHICAGO)

It may sound like a drastic idea -- bringing the National Guard into Chicago's most violent neighborhoods. Two state representatives say that it is the solution to save lives.

North Side State Rep. John Fritchey (D-11th) and West Side State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) are reacting to violence on Chicago streets and calling on Governor Pat Quinn to activate the National Guard.

"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."

Activating the National Guard for domestic duty requires approval from the governor. On Monday afternoon, Quinn offered some cautionary thought, reminding that the while the National Guard is finely trained, its training is for military missions.

Quinn said he would seriously consider any request to activate the Guard, but the mayor and police superintendent would have to first ask, and they're not going to do that now.

It is by no means the first time that a suggestion has been made to have the National Guard help fight crime.

In 1992, when a 7-year-old was shot dead by a rifle-armed sniper in Cabrini Green, the incident attracted national attention.

"This is a crisis. And it calls for drastic measures," said Vince Lane, CHA director.

The then head of the CHA wanted the National Guard to be called in to help police the projects during a year when Chicago's homicide rate hit 940 - more than double last year's total.

"Violent crime in Chicago is out of certain communities in the city of Chicago it is reaching epidemic proportions," said Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2008.

The Guard was not called in 92 because of concerns that military training and authority would not work for urban crime-fighting.

Fast forward to the latest call out the Guard proposal from two state reps who believe something needs to be done to help police.

"There's no quick band aid. You just can't think you're going to fix it in one quick weekend and then walk away. And that's what the problem would be," said Mayor Daley. "People have to get involved in the community, family by family, block by block."

"We can't keep a code of silence in neighborhoods," said Juan Rangel, United Neighborhoods Organization. "I think the solution lies in our own communities."

The mayor today didn't say no, but raised enough questions to reveal his thinking. Would the Guard be posted for a weekend without ammunition? Would they carry automatic weapons?

"To bring in a military force in an urban area, unless there's a massive riot, or a flood or a catastrophe of some sort, it's a mistake in that you're going to have a lot of complaints," said Prof. Dennis Rosenbaum, criminologist, University of Illinois at Chicago.

But at 80th and Manistee where a 7-year old girl was shot in gang crossfire five weeks ago, some residents think a military presence - just what it symbolizes - might be worth it.

"I think it's worth a try because it seems like we're gettin nowhere with what's been going on now," said Diane Hogan.

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The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police says an important part of this equation is a shortage of cops on the street. The department is 700 below its authorized strength, but on a daily basis, it's much more than that due to sick calls, furloughs, and other leaves.

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