I-Team Report: West Side Stories

May 19, 2010 (CHICAGO)

It all takes place one night in Chicago, just five miles from the Loop in and around the 11th Police District.

The night sergeant runs down crime hotspots as Harrison District officers prepare for their midnight patrol shifts, wondering what the next eight hours will bring.

The emergency room at Mt. Sinai Hospital never seems to stop, one of four top level trauma centers in Chicago. Sinai is right in the middle of West Side gang turf.

With news crews stationed in both places, the night starts when Chicago police intercept a van that was carjacked in west suburban Hillside, chased into the city and crashed. The 20-year-old suspect was wounded while allegedly shooting it out with police.

"They're having more weapons, challenging us more. The level of respect has changed a lot," said Officer Louis Centeno, 11th District.

At Mt. Sinai, the 20-year-old suspect is now being treated in room four, guarded by officers. A typical night has begun for those in blue and white.

"As it gets warm outside and it's nicer weather, we tend to see more of these types of cases. We see a significant amount of gunshot wounds...unnecessary death and loss of life on the younger community," said Dr. John Vazquez, Mt. Sinai chief medical officer.

"One of the hardest parts is actually telling the families. So when I have to do it three or four times in a night, you know, like, I have to go home and I'm like, did that really happen?" said Dr. Fernando Orellana, ER attending physician.

Like those in the emergency room, police have to keep perspective.

"You can try to be Don Quiote and think you can change to world but you're not, you pick your battles you do good things here and there and you hope for the best," said Officer Sean Flynn, CPD 11th District.

By midnight, Mt. Sinai is already jammed with young victims of violence, including an 18-year-old man shot and being treated here in room two. He was the target of an apparent gang hit.

Police in the 11th district say attitudes towards them have changed.

"People don't seem as respectful towards police or as helpful to the police as they were a year and few years ago," said Officer Chris Dieball, CPD 11th District.

GOUDIE: "Does that make it more difficult?
DIEBALL: Absolutely, they aren't as cooperative as they used to be of course officer safety is our hightest priority and they kind of seem to throw that right out the window and disregard anything we are trying to do or accomplish out there."

"A lot of times I'm thankful that I'm going home to my family because someone that I may have worked with the night before, a patient, didn't get that opportunity," said Nurse Shurecca, Mt. Sinai Hospital.

"I think from a personal, human standpoint what goes through my mind is, 'what a shame' and um, I wish we as a community, a city, a country, would make different choices and not have this occur," said Dr. Vazquez.

No one wishes that more than the police and hospital staff, who grew up around here.

"A lot of times I'll see individuals that have gotten shot that live right down the street from me or a block over. A lot of times you feel like that could have been you," said Shurecca.

That sentiment isn't lost on 11th District Officer Chris Tottas.

"You see more assault rifles, more body armor defeating rounds more than we did before," said Tottas.

GOUDIE: "What do you say to your wife when you leave in the morning?
TOTTAS: She knows it's a dangerous job, I might not come back home that night, but she knows my number one goal is when I come to work is to come home safely."

"There's been a lot of talk of violence in the city and that's what we see, we see a lot of young people dying," said Dr. Orellana.

They work in an ER that resembles a combat field hospital and they patrol streets where as many Americans have died this year as Iraq and Afghanistan put together. It isn't the chaos that keeps the cops and the docs coming back; it is a common feeling that they can make a difference, sometimes in a moment of help or saving a life, sometimes over the long haul.

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