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Top cop Garry McCarthy has plan to go after Michigan Ave. ‘flash mob’ rings

New Police Supt. Garry McCarthy wants crack down quality-of-life complaints including shop-lifting 'flash mobs' terrorizing Michigan Avenue shopping district. |

New Police Supt. Garry McCarthy wants to crack down on quality-of-life complaints, including the shop-lifting "flash mobs" terrorizing the Michigan Avenue shopping district. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 31, 2011 12:38AM

Acting Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Tuesday he may follow Philadelphia’s lead when it comes to the text-messaging, shoplifting “flash mobs” now terrorizing the Michigan Avenue shopping district.

After eight days on the job, McCarthy has his hands full redeploying police resources to combat the traditional summer crime surge.

But, he’s also following through on a promise to “sweat the small stuff” — by cracking down on quality-of-life complaints that tear down neighborhoods and frighten residents and businesses.

Juvenile flash mobs fall into that category.

They get their marching orders and lists of items to steal via text message, swoop into stores on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile in groups, then grab as much loot as they can before scattering to the winds.

“It’s very important because it’s a disorder. It goes along with the quality-of-life stuff, and we can’t tolerate that stuff. So, we’ll be on it. We’re not gonna let it go,” McCarthy said Tuesday after joining Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the Gresham Police District to announce plans to re-deploy 500 officers to high-crime districts.

“Philadelphia has a great plan on it that I’m looking at right now, actually. It has to do with having the resources deployed and breaking them [up] immediately before they get too far and monitoring some of the social media that they use.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that shoplifting arrests of juveniles have jumped in the police district that includes Michigan Avenue — even as retail theft arrests as a whole have fallen slightly.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) described it as a “new brand of retail theft” that’s highly coordinated by adult criminals who recruit juveniles to do their dirty work.

“You have large groups of kids — 15, 20 at a time — running into a store all at once. They mull around for a few minutes, find the items on their lists and, when a code word is yelled or texted to them, they head for different exits, knowing retail security can’t catch everybody,” Reilly said.

“It’s happened on the Mag Mile, at Water Tower [Place], on State Street. Pick a neighborhood with a retail corridor, it’s happening. What’s so terrible is these adults are specifically targeting young women under 18 because they can’t be prosecuted as adults. They’re stealing high-end items that can be quickly resold. The kids’ reward is some cash or one of items on the list.”

Reilly said the uptick in juvenile arrests doesn’t tell the whole story. Many store owners are reluctant to press charges for fear that a surge in arrests could scare away law-abiding customers.

“Whether it’s shoplifting, aggressive panhandling or vagrancy, there are certain retailers who just don’t want to get involved for any number of reasons. That’s very frustrating,” he said.

“Police have been very proactive in addressing this issue downtown, auditing store security and making specific recommendations on how to improve security. But, retailers have to help police see this through the legal process. You need a signed complaint.”

When McCarthy was police director in Newark, N.J,, police there started cracking down on the most frequent types of quality-of-life complaints: everything from loud music to public urination.

In the process, Newark started to see other, more serious types of crimes fall. Officers who stopped to talk to a beer-drinking man on a corner probably stopped a shooting, he said.

When McCarthy arrived in Chicago, he promised to adopt the same approach here.

“Quality of life and CompStat, I’ve learned, are the two cornerstones of crime reduction,” he said, referring to New York’s plan to hold police commanders accountable for crime in their districts.

“You sweat the small stuff to prevent the big stuff.”

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