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Economic and social breakdown reason for shootings

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Police Supt. Garry McCarthy  | Sun-Times files

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 11, 2012 6:25AM

Mike Gotem, the manager of the Get Connected cellphone store in West Humboldt Park, pointed to the shattered woodwork on the display case where he says a bullet landed and another missing chunk where its intended target leaped over the 6-foot-high case to make his getaway.

“He was a big guy, like 6-6 or 6-7. He came running through the door eyes as big as saucers, a bullet hole in his stomach. He jumped over the case and tried to lock himself in the bathroom. I did what anybody would do. I called the police,” he said of the July 2 incident in which three gang members were shot.

On Monday, though, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city was seeking to revoke the store’s business license, making it Exhibit A in what the mayor calls his Flagged Business Initiative — an effort to target “problem” businesses that can serve as a magnet for gang activity.

In essence, the city says Get Connected employees have not done enough to prevent its 3647 W. Division Street location from becoming a hangout — inside and out — for gang members, who also loiter most evenings outside a nearby liquor store where Police Supt. Garry McCarthy himself confiscated a weapon on Saturday night while following up on the shootings.

I understand the strategy. It’s not a bad policy, as policies go, although its shortcomings are readily apparent. Closing businesses like these doesn’t solve the underlying problem, it just moves it around. But that can serve a purpose, too.

The problem for Emanuel was that it probably wasn’t the best crime-fighting program to highlight on a day when Chicago aldermen were openly questioning McCarthy’s methods for dealing with this year’s spike in murders and with national news organizations taking note of the city’s violence problem.

The aldermen want the mayor to go back to the police department’s previous strategy of using specialized units to swoop down with a show of force in problem areas that have shown an uptick in violence.

The mayor and McCarthy disbanded those units in favor of a renewed emphasis on beat policing that Emanuel had promised during his election campaign. Now the argument is being waged in terms of doing one or the other, when the real answer is probably what the police officers have been telling us from the start, which is to hire more police so that you can do both.

People want the cops on the beat, but not at the expense of losing a proven short-term solution for quieting a crisis.

That costs money — and usually means higher taxes. For obvious reasons, the mayor doesn’t want to do that. At this rate, he may have to reconsider, as will the aldermen.

I have little doubt that Emanuel and McCarthy are pursuing the correct long-term crime-fighting strategy. But as the bodies keep piling up, they won’t be able to stubbornly stick with their game plan.

For those who have forgotten, let me remind you that former Police Supt. Jody Weis and Mayor Richard M. Daley weren’t exactly being praised for the lower homicide numbers that McCarthy and Emanuel are trying to meet. Even then, the belief was that violence was out of control.

Personally, I believe there’s only so much the police can do about this. What we’re seeing is the result of an economic and social breakdown in poor neighborhoods, not inadequate policing. Still, you want to make sure the police are doing everything possible.

The Flagged Business Initiative is obviously one of those long-term crime-fighting strategies the city is undertaking. Police say that while following up on the shooting at Get Connected, they arrested a store employee in possession of a gun and a gang member with a gun who was trying to hide inside the store.

A police official said the cellphone store does not have a good record of calling police to chase off loitering gang members.

“We’re not part of the problem,” countered store manager Gotem. “What am I supposed to do? If anybody comes in here and we see they’re not customers, we kick them out right away.”

Gotem said he rarely calls police because unless it’s for something serious, it takes them too long to respond.

If the city wants every business where gang members congregate to call the police, they’re going to need all those beat officers — and more.

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