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Supt. McCarthy considers expanding ‘hot zone’ crime-fighting strategy

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy talks about guns new gun laws Monday 10th District 3315 W Ogden.  |

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy talks about guns and new gun laws on Monday at the 10th District, 3315 W Ogden. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 6, 2013 6:19AM

The Chicago Police Department is considering the expansion of the “hot zone” crime-fighting strategy highlighted by Supt. Garry McCarthy this week as the city recorded a historically low number of murders in February.

McCarthy is paying overtime to 200 officers for nightly patrols of 10 areas identified in a three-year and one-year analysis of murders, shootings and robberies across the city.

But he told reporters Monday he’s identified as many as 20 such areas of various sizes and prioritized them based on the study of violent crime. To expand into each zone would require up to 400 officers — 20 per zone.

“At the end of the day, the idea is to make sure that you can’t move around in that zone without seeing a police officer,” McCarthy said.

The superintendent acknowledged the strategy is “not the cure for cancer,” though. There were zero murders or shootings in the 10 zones targeted in February, compared with what he’s said was one murder and two shootings in February 2012. Fourteen people were murdered across all of Chicago last month, though, half as many as the same month last year.

Not since January 1957, McCarthy said, has Chicago seen a lower monthly tally — 12.

Saturating the 10 “hot zones” frees district commanders to send regularly scheduled beat officers to other areas in their districts that require attention, according to the superintendent.

But Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden said the plan simply resurrects previous strategies, like the Mobile Strike Force disbanded by McCarthy, that worked in the past. He questioned how long the department can afford to pay overtime to officers to patrol the zones, and he said more police should be hired.

“More police on the street does prevent crime,” Camden said.

McCarthy insisted the department has been hiring, and he said officers signing up for overtime are available immediately.

McCarthy declined to say what areas are being targeted for overtime patrols — only that the first on the list is in Chicago’s Gresham neighborhood. He said they make up 1.6 percent of the city’s geography but contribute 10 percent of the city’s violence.

He also said they cross district boundaries, a key difference he highlighted between this new initiative and the Mobile Strike Force. He also said the historical crime analysis sets the new strategy apart.

McCarthy said he spent Saturday night bouncing around “from zone to zone.” He said the officers he encountered there were excited by the new strategy.

“They could feel a change,” McCarthy said. “Something’s happening.”

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