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Cops knocking on doors of potential shooters, victims

Garry McCarthy

Garry McCarthy

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Updated: August 20, 2013 6:34AM

Working from a list of people deemed most likely to become shooters or victims, a Chicago Police commander is expected to start knocking on their doors Friday and deliver letters warning them not to commit any violent crimes.

The “custom notifications” are a pilot program in the Austin District on the West Side. Austin District Cmdr. Barbara West plans to deliver letters to 20 people on a so-called “heat list,” officials said.

The heat list stems from work by Andrew Papachristos, a Yale University professor who studied murders between 2005 and 2010 on the West Side. He found 70 percent of the killings were in a social network of 1,600 people out of a total population of 80,000.

The citywide social network of violence includes more than 16,000 people, police Supt. Garry McCarthy said. The department narrowed that list to more than 400 “hot people” most likely to commit shootings or become victims — or 20 people per police district.

The letters will warn those on the list that they will face the most serious charges possible if they’re arrested for a violent crime.

“The custom notifications are the next step in the evolution of putting those guys on notice that they have the highest propensity for homicide,” McCarthy said. “We’re saying, ‘We know who you are, we know what you do and your chance of dying in a homicide is much greater than John Q. Citizen.’ ”

As the program evolves, the department plans to identify “influentials” such as a coach or pastor who can come to the door with the police to help deliver the message. The influentials can direct the “hot person” in a positive direction, officials said.

The department also plans to use the custom notifications in special situations such as flare-ups of violence. When police believe someone is likely to commit a retaliatory shooting, they might deliver a letter to him at home, said Debra Kirby, chief of the department’s Bureau of Organizational Development.

“We are looking to reach out and touch those individuals who are responsible for the violence in the city,” Kirby said.

Gang violence — including a spike in murders — put Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the national spotlight last year.

McCarthy says his gang violence reduction strategy is now fully in place. This year through Thursday, murder was down 26 percent, shootings — both fatal and nonfatal — were down 24 percent and overall crime was down 15 percent compared to the same period of 2012, according to the department.

The custom notification program is an extension of the gang “call-ins” the department has held since 2010. Former Police Supt. Jody Weis, following a model developed in Boston, arranged meetings between gang members and law enforcement authorities.

In the call-ins, which have continued under McCarthy, gang members are warned that any future murders tied to their gang will result in a police war on the entire gang — “group accountability.” Families of crime victims, pastors and community leaders also speak to the gang members about the damage they do to their neighborhoods.

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Criminal Control at John Jay College of New York, helped design the group call-ins — as well as the new custom notification program, which was previously introduced in High Point, N.C.

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