City to demolish more vacant buildings in crime-ridden districts

August 31, 2012 (CHICAGO)

But in a neighborhood where there are many empty, boarded up, abandoned homes, does the demolition of one make a difference?

"My gut tells me that it definitely works," said Michael Merchant, Chicago building commissioner. "I've heard from commanders that tearing down certain buildings completely turns blocks around."

Neighbors endorse getting rid of crime magnets, but wonder about the method.

"There are plenty of residents that want to have, would like to have affordable housing, but they'd rather tear it down. I don't understand that," said Earl Walker, resident.

There are 200 buildings marked for demolition as part of this crime-fighting initiative. All have been in housing court, are structurally unsound, and have had numerous police visits. Many like 5633 South Laflin are in Englewood.

"In my time, who would have ever said that Englewood is leading in the reduction of homicides in the city as a whole," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The homicide rate in Englewood is down 44 percent - not because a lot of gang-hangouts have been torn down, but because, as the mayor and police superintendent see it, a new strategy started seven months ago is working. It involves flooding high crime areas with more cops, and keeping them there to focus on known gang-bangers.

"Geographical accountability for all the members of the department is one of the catch phrases you'll hear over and over. This way we're not robbing Peter to Pay Paul," said Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

So what started in January in the South Side 7th and West Side 11th districts is now being expanded to two more police districts: the 3rd and 10th where crime has spiked.

Can that work given the department's staffing levels?

"I'm leaving that in the hands of those that are charged with making those decisions. The outcomes, the statistics will reveal whether they've been successful," said Alderman Willie Cochran, 20th Ward.

Cochran is an alderman and former police officer who stood with the mayor and police superintendent Friday. While he endorses their plan, Cochran is also an advocate of the specialized, mobile strike force units that the police department has not used, and he also says the department simply needs to hire more. The superintendent says the pieces can be effectively moved without the need to hire more. Cochran, among others, has opted for a "wait and see" approach.

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