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New top cop McCarthy called ‘one of America’s best police chiefs’

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy | Sun-Times files

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 27, 2011 12:34AM

NEWARK, N.J. — Well into his 40s, Garry F. McCarthy played outside linebacker for the New York Police Department’s football team.

McCarthy put a hurt on opponents — and sometimes got banged up himself.

But when McCarthy became Newark’s top cop in 2006, the mayor begged him to stay off the gridiron. Stubbornly, McCarthy played one more year.

“Finally he gave it up, thank God,” said his brother, Jim. “Garry played hard, just like he lives.”

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel liked McCarthy’s toughness — and their shared philosophy on policing — when he interviewed him for the position of top cop here.

Their demeanors are similar.

Emanuel was known for dropping f-bombs in the heat of the moment when he worked in the White House and served in Congress.

As for McCarthy’s temper, Newark’s superstar Mayor Corey A. Booker said: “I was warned and warned and warned about it, but it was a little of a letdown that I never saw it flare. I used to tease him that he was going to anger management. I saw him get frustrated, disappointed and angry. But I never saw him lose control.”

Both men also are known for being among the most brilliant tacticians in their professions.

Booker said he understands why Emanuel wooed McCarthy away from Newark.

“I think they’re two similar guys,” Booker said.

On Monday, Emanuel introduced McCarthy, 52, as his choice for Chicago police superintendent. McCarthy awaits City Council approval.

Newark’s city councilmen and union leaders said their relationship with McCarthy was sometimes rocky, but they credited him with the 12 percent drop in overall crime in Newark during his tenure. Shootings and murders plummeted 40 percent over that period.

“Garry’s genius was crime strategy and how he forces people to think, gets his leaders to perform at a higher level. The way he handled our carjacking spike, I was in awe,” Booker said.

McCarthy installed a gunshot-detection system and launched a plan to cover the city with surveillance cameras. He created an aviation unit and a marine unit. And he spearheaded Operation Impact, putting rookies in high-crime areas, said Detective James Stewart Jr., a vice president of Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police.

“It was good for the kids, especially when it encompassed housing projects,” he said. “Mom could come out on the porch. Kids could play in the street. You weren’t bound in your house by fear and drug dealers and all that nonsense.”

Stewart said he’s grateful to McCarthy for supporting him after he fatally shot a mentally ill man armed with two knives. At a news conference, McCarthy said he wished New Jersey officers were allowed to carry Tasers for such situations. Then he told Stewart he did the right thing.

“He backs you up,” Stewart said.

Newark City Council President Donald Payne Jr. praised McCarthy as a capable crime fighter, but said McCarthy’s “gruff, old-school” manner rubbed people the wrong way.

“Garry was a guy that did not suffer fools lightly,” Payne said.

The council ran into problems communicating with McCarthy, Payne said.

“We would ask him to brief the council and sometimes it was like pulling teeth,” he said.

Another union vice president, Walter Melvin, said he was glad to see McCarthy go.

“We hope he does excellent in Chicago and never comes back here,” Melvin said. “And if he does come here on vacation, he better park right.”

McCarthy responded: “I am proud of my enemies and my friends.”

Emanuel said one of the reasons he chose McCarthy is that he can “hit the ground running” with his strategies. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, McCarthy energetically ticked off idea after idea.

He vowed to shift more Chicago Police officers onto patrol from specialized units.

He pledged to steer some non-emergency calls away from the 911 center to the 311 center — to allow cops to get out of their cars and do more proactive police work, instead of going from call to call.

McCarthy said he wants his officers to “sweat the small stuff” such as stopping people from drinking on street corners. Addressing those types of problems can lead to making arrests for more serious crimes such as gun possession, he said.

McCarthy also wants to move desk officers to the street and make them work nights and weekends.

“I am willing to stop administrative function completely if it means putting cops in the right place, meaning the street,” he said.

McCarthy said he’ll emphasize the statistics-driven CompStat accountability system he oversaw in New York. In CompStat, commanders were held to the fire for crime in their precincts.

Many of McCarthy’s crime-fighting ideas were hatched in the mid-1990s in New York City by William Bratton, who was the NYPD police commissioner. He retired in 2009 as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

McCarthy is among a group of “Brattonistas” who’ve left NYPD to run other police agencies. They’ve implemented variations of CompStat and other Bratton ideas such as the “broken-windows strategy,” which holds that keeping urban areas free of vandalism and other disorder can prevent more serious crimes.

McCarthy was a captain when Bratton ran the NYPD. McCarthy was among a dozen of the department’s 600 captains Bratton handpicked for key leadership roles, Bratton said.

“Garry gets the importance of partnerships with communities. He comes out of two policing jobs where racial issues are always on the front page,” Bratton said, noting that McCarthy speaks Spanish, which could prove a positive with Chicago’s large Hispanic population.

McCarthy, who was the NYPD’s top crime strategist during the 9/11 attacks, also brings counter-terrorism knowledge to the table in Chicago, a target as the hometown of President Obama, Bratton said.

“In Garry, Rahm got one of America’s best police chiefs,” he said.

If Bratton was one of McCarthy’s mentors, McCarthy’s father — an NYPD detective — was an inspiration for him to become a cop.

McCarthy grew up in Pelham Bay, a blue-collar neighborhood in the Bronx. Back then, it was an enclave of Italian and Polish immigrants. Many of the boys there wound up in the military or as cops and firefighters.

McCarthy’s father was a Marine who was wounded three times in the bloodiest battles in the Pacific during World War II.

In his office, McCarthy keeps a map of Iwo Jima that his father carried when he was shot there. There’s a bullet hole in the map. McCarthy also prizes a photo of his father and his partner standing outside their NYPD squad car after a shoot-out. There’s a bullet hole in the windshield. The bullet went through the partner’s hat, too.

His dad, a high-school dropout, encouraged his three sons to complete college before considering a career in law enforcement. McCarthy graduated from Albany State University and joined the NYPD in 1981.

McCarthy rose through the ranks to lead the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights, then a drug-infested neighborhood in north Manhattan.

“He started implementing everything he saw from the ground level of policing, which was taking neighborhoods back street by street, foot patrols, pushing the demand [for drugs] out, coordinating with other agencies and community policing,” said his brother Jim, a former New York State trooper. “They closed off both ends of the street and you had to live on the block or have some kind of legitimate business to go there.”

The World Trade Center attacks were a transforming experience for McCarthy. He knew lots of people who died in the collapse of the towers. “To look at me and my brother, who is only six years younger, it aged him a lot. It personally hurt him,” Jim McCarthy said.

He said his brother “will do the right thing in Chicago. He expects people to do the right thing, carry out their jobs. And he leads by example.”

But critics of McCarthy have asked Chicago’s City Council to block his appointment. One is Eric Josey of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. He sent the Council a laundry list of complaints about McCarthy.

Josey pointed to a 96-page petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which resulted in a federal investigation of the Newark Police Department. The petition cited police brutality, false arrests, improper searches and other misconduct. McCarthy said most of the lawsuits listed in the petition stem from incidents before he was police director. He said he’s cooperating fully with the Justice Department.

Another issue involves a 2005 altercation between McCarthy and two New Jersey police officers. McCarthy said he came to the aid of his daughter, who called crying after she was approached by the officers over her parking in a handicapped spot. McCarthy was handcuffed as he argued with the cops.

“What kind of father would I be if I didn’t do anything?” he said.

In a news conference introducing McCarthy as his top cop, Emanuel brushed aside the criticism, saying the Chicago Police Board vetted those issues before recommending McCarthy.

Still, William Bratton — McCarthy’s former NYPD boss — said he has one other beef about his protégé.

“I think he’s got to shave off that crazy goatee,” Bratton laughed. “He is the only police chief I know of in America with a beard. Show off that strong chin.”

McCarthy responded that he will, but only after he’s certified as an Illinois law enforcement officer and starts to wear a Chicago Police uniform.

“Then it’s gone,” he said of the beard.

Frank Main reported from Chicago. Mark Konkol reported from New Jersey.

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