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City wants to crack down on quality-of-life complaints to help prevent serious crimes

Updated: March 6, 2013 6:20AM

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has long maintained that sweating the small stuff — by cracking down on quality-of-life complaints — can help prevent some of those same offenders from committing more serious crimes.

His officers are about to get another legal weapon to do just that. It would force offenders ticketed for small amounts of marijuana, public urination, public drinking and gambling to either pay their fines or face arrest the next time they have a run-in with police.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is re-writing the ordinance that empowers Chicago Police officers to issue so-called “Administrative Notices of Violation.”

McCarthy let the cat out of the bag during a Jan. 23 Compstat meeting, according to a summary obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The report states that it is “intended to serve as an aid in memory only.” But, it nevertheless describes McCarthy as saying the upcoming changes to the municipal code would plug a “major hole in our efforts to fight crime.”

McCarthy was described as saying offenders ticketed for “public consumption of alcohol, urinating in public, cannabis and gambling” would be given a choice: “If they don’t return the summons/ticket [and pay the fine], a warrant will be placed” for their arrest.

Previously, warrants had not been issued.

In an email to the Sun-Times, a city spokesman would only say that Mayor Rahm Emanuel “continues to explore every opportunity to keep police officers on the street and our communities safe.”

Other sources confirmed that an ordinance is in the works “to ensure that quality-of-life issues are addressed in every community” whole also freeing police to focus on “prevention and prosecution of more serious crimes.”

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields said the decision to issue arrests warrants for quality-of-life offenders who blow off their fines is long overdue.

“We write ANOV’s knowing they’re never going to get paid. It would be a great tool that, the next time you see the guy after he hasn’t paid and he’s committing the same violation as he did last month, now we get to lock `em up,” Shields said.

“The ANOV is not well-equipped to deal with the gang-bangers of the streets of Chicago. It doesn’t have teeth. You could do it 100 times in a row and it makes no difference. There are people who have no intention of ever paying. These offenders really don’t care about their credit rating. But, they will care when the police start locking them up.”

McCarthy disclosed the impending crackdown while pressuring John Escalante, deputy chief of patrol for Area North, to increase the number of “ANOV’s” issued by officers under his command.

The superintendent told Escalante he was “going in the right direction” overall but that “ANOV’s, curfews” and other activity was “going in the wrong direction.”

“We’ve got to start focusing on ANOV’s in spring,” McCarthy was described as saying.

The subject came up again when McCarthy was discussing robberies and burglaries in the Belmont and Sheffield entertainment area with Belmont District Commander Elias Voulgaris.

“Your ANOV’s are down 16 percent. Increasing your ANOV’s will help you if you if you can get them up [during winter months]. We are going to be packed in April, May and June,” the summary generally quoted McCarthy as saying.

If ticketing is down in parts of the city, it’s only because police districts are inundated and under-staffed, Shields said.

“Focusing on quality of life is something officers want to be part of. But, when you don’t have the time to be pro-actively policing because you’re tied down to a radio getting hit with 911 calls all day, the superintendent can’t be pointing the finger at patrolmen,” Shields said.

“We’re doing so much more with so many fewer officers. Don’t point the finger at us. We’ll point it right back at you.”

Cracking down on quality-of-life crimes is something McCarthy has been harping on since he arrived in Chicago from Newark, N.J.

On the day he was appointed, McCarthy described how Newark’s police crackdown on loud music and public urination paved the way for a reduction in more serious crime. Officers who stopped to talk to the beer-drinking man on the corner probably stopped a shooting, McCarthy said then.

“Quality of life and CompStat, I’ve learned, are the two cornerstones of crime reduction,” he said on that day.

McCarthy reiterated that philosophy last week after shifting 200 officers from desk jobs to street duty and assigning them to “area saturation” teams that replaced the Mobile Strike Force he disbanded.

“If we’re hiring officers to put them in the places at the times when crime is most likely to happen and giving them tools — quality of life enforcement, stop-and-frisk, gang violence reduction strategy, gang audits that identify locations where retaliation is most likely to happen — those are the steps that will reduce crime,” he said.

In 2009, the Sun-Times reported that $61.3 million had slipped through the city’s fingers over the prior 19 months because so many people cited for violating city laws had blown off their administrative hearings or ignored the judgments city hearing officers had rendered.

The Police Department topped with the list with $20.2 million in outstanding fines.

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