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Police chief Garry McCarthy sees progress in first 100 days

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy  his office Chicago Police HQ 3510 S. Michigan Avenue Wednesday August 18 2011

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy in his office at Chicago Police HQ, 3510 S. Michigan Avenue, Wednesday, August 18, 2011 | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 3, 2011 10:55AM



Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who will mark his 100th day in the job Tuesday, firmly believes the city is safer since he took office.

As the native New Yorker sat with his back to the Chicago skyline at his desk in police headquarters last week, he ticked off the latest crime statistics to drive his point home.

“Shootings: down 75 through today. That’s 1,516 last year and 1,441 this year. Murder: down 30 through today, from 290 to 260.”

Asked how much he thinks his new strategies have contributed to the decline, he confidently responded: “I’d have to say it’s 90 percent.”

McCarthy took office May 16.

His boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, had pledged on the campaign trail that he would put 1,000 more officers in patrol jobs.

So far, McCarthy has moved 750 cops to patrol from desk jobs and from disbanded citywide teams like the Mobile Strike Force and Targeted Response Unit, which he disbanded. He thinks he can free up another 125 cops for patrol work by hiring civilians to take over administrative jobs. And the Chicago Transit Authority recently agreed to bankroll a new class of 50 recruits who will patrol trains and buses when they graduate next year.

“We’re getting closer to that 1,000 number the mayor wanted, but I am still not satisfied we have everybody out there we need.”

In recent years, a hiring slowdown has left the department more than 2,300 officers short of budgeted strength. So McCarthy is having to shift officers rather than hire new ones to bolster the patrol division.

McCarthy said he brought with him what he calls “a tool box of tried and true methods” that he used as head of crime strategy for the New York Police Department and later as head of the Newark Police Department.

He holds weekly meetings, called CompStat, in which commanders are grilled about crime in their districts. The idea behind CompStat, developed in the 1990s in New York, is to hold commanders accountable.

“We have not removed anyone from district command, but some guys and gals have been embarrassed,” McCarthy said. “You don’t really want to embarrass somebody, but you want to push them.”

McCarthy also recently eliminated several layers of the command structure at the top.

He said he will have to replace at least seven district commanders over the next few months because of retirements and promotions. For the first time in Chicago, he will ask district commanders and other top supervisors to vote on the lieutenants and captains they believe would make good district commanders. The finalists will go through an extensive vetting process, McCarthy said.

“We will review their careers from top to bottom,” he said.

McCarthy’s tenure hasn’t been entirely without controversy.

In June, he told parishioners at St. Sabina Church — a mostly African-American congregation on the South Side — that federal gun laws promoted by the National Rifle Association amount to “government-sponsored racism” because they help channel weapons into inner-city areas where they are used to kill “black and brown children.”

Gun-rights advocates lashed out at McCarthy, calling his comments “nutty” and blasting him as a “political hack.”

But in an interview, McCarthy defended his comments, saying, “It doesn’t mean I think the government is racist or the gun laws are racist but the disparate impact of illegal firearms on the African-American community is overwhelming. The No. 1 cause of death among young African Americans is gunshot.”

McCarthy said he recognizes that police have to deal with a historical mistrust of officers in minority communities because of the aggressive work they do in high-crime areas and because the police were the ones who enforced segregation.

“To deny what has occurred in the country in the experience of African Americans would be ignorant,” he said.

McCarthy added that the nation’s gun debate needs to “come back to the center” where the Second Amendment right to bear arms is protected while the illegal flow of guns into cities is prevented.

In his first 100 days in office, McCarthy also focused on stopping roving bands of teenagers who were robbing and beating people in the downtown area and shoplifting from stores on North Michigan Avenue. He responded by beefing up undercover patrols and assigning additional cops to CTA train platforms to watch for unruly groups of youths.

“We were on top of it and made the arrests,” he said. “It’s not an epidemic in Chicago. We got it under control.”

McCarthy, meanwhile, vowed to “obliterate” the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang after a member allegedly shot two girls — 2 and 7 — while targeting a rival on June 7. Since then, more than 300 of the gang’s members have been arrested, he said.

McCarthy is continuing a strategy begun under former Police Supt. Jody Weis to call in members of certain street gangs and order them to stop their shooting or their entire gang will be targeted by the police. Under the strategy, the gang members are offered job-placement services.

“We may be the largest department to adopt this strategy,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the job of police superintendent is all-consuming. So far, there have been only four days when he did nothing work-related, he said.

He did get a chance to watch a New York Yankees/White Sox game with Sox owner
Jerry Reinsdorf, though.

“I told him, ‘We’ve won the last three, you can have one now,’ ” said McCarthy, a die-hard Yankees fan. (The Sox wound up losing four in a row to the Yankees.)

As he looked over his printout of the city’s latest crime statistics, McCarthy said he hopes they signal a major downward shift in crime. Even though crime here has dropped for 31 months in a row, Chicago’s murder rate per 100,000 is still much higher than in New York or Los Angeles.

“We’re just getting started,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never worked harder, but I’ve never been more satisfied with what I’m doing.”



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