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Garry McCarthy: Officers seek to break up flash mobs before they form

Guardian Angels Keunthi Davis (left) QuentBatteast stpatrol Red Line statinear State Chicago Wednesday. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times

Guardian Angels Keunthi Davis (left) and Quentin Batteast stand patrol at the Red Line station near State and Chicago on Wednesday. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 3, 2011 5:19PM

Chicago Police officers, some of them undercover, have been stationed at downtown CTA stations and other “choke points” to stop large groups of unruly young people intent on causing trouble, officials said Wednesday.

The change in tactics — and a “marginal addition” to police resources downtown that have so far triggered 29 arrests — are City Hall’s latest response to the flash mobs and wildings that, one alderman acknowledged are “giving our city a real bad name.”

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy stressed that racial profiling is not part of the equation.

“What we’re looking for is large groups of youth who may be involved in criminal activity … Five-plus, ten, 15, 20. You can tell when kids are together. And you can tell when they’re in a kindergarten group … or when they’re in a group that could be engaged in behaviors that we don’t like. They’re going to be loud. They’re going to be perhaps taunting people and stuff like that. So, it’s the behaviors. It’s not the individuals. And it’s large groups of kids,” McCarthy said.

“We will not in any way shape or form allow a member of the Chicago Police Department to engage in racial profiling. The fact is, we engage in behavioral profiling. When people commit criminal acts, we will go after them, we will arrest them, and we will prosecute them. It’s not about the way somebody looks. It’s their behavior.”

Reminded that being loud is not illegal, McCarthy replied, “Actually, it can be. It can be disturbing the peace. And that’s what this is all about. Don’t forget the quality of life stuff that we’ve been talking about.”

Pressed to identify the race of the 29 young men arrested, McCarthy said, “You know what? I don’t even check. I don’t care if they’re purple. The fact is, they’re criminals committing crime and the fact is, we’re going to arrest them.”

At a City Hall news conference just minutes after the City Council confirmed McCarthy’s appointment, Mayor Rahm Emanuel cautioned reporters to be sensitive to the term, “flash mob” and “what that conjures up.”

The new mayor also encouraged a debate within newsrooms about the question of whether too bright a spotlight is being shined on crimes in the downtown area at the expense of similar incidents in inner city neighborhoods where such crimes of opportunity are commonplace.

“Are you guys reporting this more than other crime? You’re gonna have to make your own judgment about your professional standards. What I mean by that is not a challenge, so don’t everybody get their back up,” the mayor said.

“There were other incidents that happened [elsewhere] over the weekend. How’s the coverage of those vs. this? You’ll evaluate that. ... Our job is to keep all communities, regardless of where they are, safe — not just respond to only things that you want to cover — whether they’re in Englewood or downtown, whether they’re in Roseland or Albany Park.”

Over the weekend, the flash mob incidents that have been plaguing Michigan Avenue retailers burst into the headlines with a Streeterville crime spree that triggered the arrest of five teenagers.

Some of the victims were tourists and conventioneers.

Earlier this week, McCarthy insisted that there were enough police resources downtown, that the strategy of attacking the insidious problem is working and that shoppers, employees and residents had nothing to fear. But, he refused to reveal specifics.

On Wednesday, McCarthy showed at least part of his hand to alleviate a growing concern that the downtown area is no longer a safe place to live, work, shop and play.

“There is a plan in place that we’re using. It involves patrol officers. It involves the gang unit, and it involves detectives. It involves posting officers at locations, choke points where people will be flowing into the city in large numbers and, hopefully, intercepting them as they’re coming in. We enhanced that now by adding an undercover component to that,” he said.

The new superintendent cautioned reporters not to lump all of the incidents into the same category. Some are shoplifting. Others are robberies. And on Tuesday night, there was an incident that he called completely unrelated.

One group of young men solicited cigarettes from another group of young men. When one man took out his wallet to pay, a member of the other group snatched the wallet and ran.

“These three men chased ten men to get the wallet back and eventually caught up to the ten men and lost the fight. That in no way shape or form represents anything that we’ve been talking about,” he said.

“The fact is, we have a plan. We are arresting people. And we’re gonna make this trend stop. But, I also need you to help me get the right information out.”

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