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Cops on overtime help drive down murder rate in city’s ‘hot zones’

Chicago Police arresed man recovered gun 31st Street near Michigan Avenue after short chase from arenear Dunbar High School

Chicago Police arresed a man and recovered a gun on 31st Street near Michigan Avenue after a short chase from the area near Dunbar High School on Feb. 5, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 5, 2013 6:15AM

Chicago recorded a historically low number of murders in February — coinciding with the introduction of Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s latest crime-fighting tactic: hiring officers on overtime to work in 10 “hot zones” across the city.

Last month, McCarthy paid overtime to 200 officers to conduct such nighttime patrols in 10 zones that represented less than 2 percent of Chicago’s land mass but 10 percent of the city’s violence.

The saturation tactic freed district commanders to send their regularly scheduled beat officers to other places in their districts that demanded attention, McCarthy said.

There were zero murders or shootings in those 10 overtime zones, compared to one murder and two shootings in February 2012, the superintendent said.

Some aldermen and community leaders have been hammering McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel for what they perceive as armed violence spinning out of control. Last year, there were 506 murders, a 16 percent rise over the previous year.

The leader of the City Council’s Black Caucus recently warned that he might seek McCarthy’s ouster if murders increase in 2013.

In February, though, Chicago recorded half as many murders as in the same month in 2012.

Last month, 14 people were murdered, including 11 shooting victims and three who died of stabbings. McCarthy said you have to go back to January 1957 to see a lower monthly tally: 12.

“This comes on the heels of a good fourth quarter,” the superintendent added.

Murder was down from Oct. 1 through the end of February: 156 killings compared to 186 between Oct. 1, 2011 and Feb. 28, 2012 — despite a deadly January.

“That five-month period is significant,” he said. “It’s progress, not victory.”

An abnormal rash of shootings in spring 2012 drove the overall 16 percent spike in murders last year, McCarthy has said.

Last spring was one of the warmest in history. Crime experts say the balmy weather drove more gang members outside, where they encountered rivals and got involved in more shootings than usual.

McCarthy’s latest overtime saturation patrols are part of his larger crime-fighting strategy, which focuses on beat cops.

McCarthy has moved officers to beat patrols from desk jobs and from citywide crime-fighting units that he has closed.

But because of retirements, there were only 11 more cops on patrol at the end of 2012 than when Emanuel took office in 2011, according to the mayor’s office, which says more beat cops will be hired this year.

In January, McCarthy announced he was moving 200 more officers from desk jobs and putting 60 of them on “area saturation teams” that are sent to crime hot spots. The number of officers in those area saturation teams has increased to about 260. They’re assigned to areas that encompass five to nine police districts each — but they don’t roam the entire city.

“We took away the citywide teams because geographic accountability is part of our strategy,” he said.

The 260 officers in the area saturation teams are separate from McCarthy’s February overtime initiative.

The idea of overtime initiatives isn’t new. Since mid-June, the city has been hiring cops on their days off as part of the department’s gang-violence reduction strategy. Those officers were assigned to districts where commanders chose where they would work.

What’s different about February is that the 10 zones were chosen based on three years of crime data, McCarthy said. The zones, most on the South and West sides, were each staffed with 20 officers getting overtime pay.

McCarthy refused to disclose the locations of the zones.

Additional officers worked overtime duty outside the 10 zones, but the department would not say how many of them did.

“This is modeled on something I created in New York,” McCarthy said, referring to his previous job as the New York Police Department’s principal crime strategist. “This is an evolution.”

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