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Ald. Reilly: Cop surge will prevent downtown crime

Guardian Angels 12-hour patrol Magnificent Mile CTA Red Line Chicago  Monday April 1 2013.  |  John H.

Guardian Angels on a 12-hour patrol of Magnificent Mile and CTA Red Line in Chicago, Monday, April 1, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 4, 2013 6:31AM

Chicago needs a strong early-season surge in police visibility on Michigan Avenue, State Street and the lakefront to reassure visitors and send a message to menacing young thugs bent on causing trouble that it’s not worth the risk, an influential alderman said Tuesday.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants the Chicago Police Department to go back to the playbook that has worked the last two years — a blend of foot and bike patrols and a beefed-up CTA detail — to nip downtown mob attacks in the bud before they get out of hand.

Reilly steered clear of criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Police Supt. Garry McCarthy three days after an outbreak of wildings on North Michigan Avenue orchestrated on Facebook and Twitter involving 400 young people.

He simply wants the Police Department to take the offensive instead of playing defense.

“I’m not suggesting the Police Department isn’t already doing a great job. They’re great at reacting to these incidents. I just want to find some creative ways to prevent the incidents from occurring in the first place,” Reilly said.

“It’s important that we have a heightened visibility on the avenue as we’re getting into a succession of warm weather days so that people understand, if they’re looking to go and do something wrong downtown, maybe that’s not the best place to go. Criminals avoid areas where they see lots of folks in uniform with guns. . . . To act as a deterrent, we need to see a force increase, at least early in the season, to send a message to kids who might want to come down and do bad things that, this isn’t a good idea. You’re gonna get arrested because we have a lot of police officers ready.”

An outbreak of wildings on North Michigan Avenue and a separate attack on a CTA Red Line train culminated in the arrest of 25 juveniles and three adults on a sunny and warm Saturday that drew the usual crowds to the Magnificent Mile. Similar incidents have happened the last two years.

Reilly said he would leave it to McCarthy to decide how many officers are needed to make a strong statement.

But he said, “Bicycle patrol officers are best. They’re fantastic. . . . They’re the next best thing to foot patrol officers. They can move around a bit faster, but they’re closer to the alley, to the noise. They can have a better line of sight into bushes even from bicycles.”

Reilly’s request comes at a time when the Police Department is so short of manpower, it’s paying 400 officers a day to work overtime in high-crime neighborhoods.

But the alderman said the “optics” alone demand a surge in police presence downtown.

“The mayor is doing an excellent job of marketing Chicago on the global stage as a tourism destination. [But], we want to make sure people continue to feel safe visiting and shopping in downtown Chicago,” Reilly said.

“You read some headlines about some of the crime issues Chicago is dealing with right now. But then, you come and visit and go shopping on the Magnificent Mile, and you see a uniformed police officer every couple of blocks. That’s gonna dissuade you of that notion. You’re gonna understand that, having seen it in person, those headlines are baloney. It is safe to visit downtown Chicago.”

Reilly said his pending proposal to have moonlighting, uniformed police officers paid for by local merchants is not a substitute for an early-season surge in high-visibility patrols.

Nor does it absolve parents of young thugs from their responsibility, he said.

“Are these parents proud of the way their children are behaving when they come downtown doing these things? Where are they? That bothers me. There’s a lack of parenting here. For kids to think it’s OK to come downtown and destroy property, get in big fights and push people, there’s something broken there, too,” he said.

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