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Mayor Emanuel: Expand strategy from areas where crime dropped

Updated: August 14, 2012 6:27AM

An initiative targeting gangs and drug markets in two violent Chicago Police districts this year will be expanded to other high-crime districts after a dramatic drop in homicides in the targeted areas, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday.

Former Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis told the Chicago Sun-Times this week that it might be time to “call an audible” — football jargon for a slight change in strategy — to stop a citywide 39 percent spike in homicides through July 1.

Emanuel’s plan is more like a spread offense.

He wants to duplicate the decreases in murder seen this year in the Englewood and Harrison Districts.

In the Englewood District, murders were down 43 percent from Jan. 13, when the initiative began, through Wednesday — compared to the same period of 2011, according to a police spokeswoman. They were down 29 percent in the Harrison District.

The mayor said he wants to expand the “special, new, concentrated program” in the Englewood and Harrison districts to other high-crime districts.

“Look, we’re seeing a reduction in [overall citywide] crime at 10 percent. I’m not [satisfied] with that. ... We’re not doing well in [other] parts of the city. We’re doing [well] where we launched something new and innovative in [the Englewood and Harrison Districts]. ... Now, I want to see where we’re going take it to the other parts of the city,” Emanuel said.

The mayor said he met Wednesday with police Supt. Garry McCarthy and First Deputy Al Wysinger and said, “‘Okay, where are we going next?’” The mayor did not identify which districts would be in line for the intense focus, how many officers would be involved or where they would come from.

A top law enforcement source said one of the most likely places for the initiative to expand is the South Chicago District on the Southeast Side. Murder there was up 67 percent through July 1 compared to the same period last year.

Authorities already are working on several major drug cases in South Chicago.

One police source, however, said the initiative in Englewood and Harrison won’t be entirely replicated in other districts.

Jack Riley, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago, has been key to the initiative in those districts. In an interview in July 2011, he called it the “chokepoint” strategy — focusing on the shadowy spot along the drug chain where street gangs come into contact with Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

“We’re having success in [Englewood and Harrison] and we really don’t want to leave,” Riley said. “We have to figure out how to maintain what we have there while going after these other places.”

Chicago Police officers and DEA agents have been working side-by-side, sharing information to combat street gangs and high-level cartels.

“In the past, there may have been distrust and we didn’t share with each other,” Riley said.

More than 40 DEA agents — along with the FBI, IRS, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — are now working alongside Chicago cops. The new strike force is one of seven like it across the country, Riley said.

Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office and Cook County state’s attorney’s office are reviewing each of the strike force’s cases to decide which to take federally.

“We can leverage the strength of the county system and the federal system to do the most damage to the organizations we’re going after,” Riley said. “We have a case coming down, probably in September, involving hundreds of people in and around those districts [Englewood and Harrison].”

Three DEA teams comprised of 40 agents have spent several months working with Chicago Police on short and long-term narcotics missions in the Englewood and Harrison districts, while FBI agents joined “shooting investigative teams.”

The U.S. Marshals Service has joined Chicago Police on “fugitive apprehension missions” and ATF is assisting in making gun buys in the two districts. The IRS is targeting the assets of local drug dealers, and the Illinois Department of Corrections is conducting “zero tolerance” compliance checks of parolees.

Since January, the city has also saturated the Englewood and Harrison districts with additional gang and narcotics officers.

Also Thursday, Emanuel unleashed a statistical barrage to rebut a claim by Chicago’s convention and tourism chief that the spike in homicides and a troubling return to mob attacks downtown was making meeting planners nervous about whether Chicago is a safe place to visit.

“Blues Festival made $500,000 more. Our hotel occupancy is setting records in the country. Our hotel construction is setting records. ... We’re actually No. 2 in the country for new hotel rooms, and we’ve grown by 50 percent over last year,” Emanuel said.

“Our occupancy is up north of 90 percent. Our occupancy rate is growing 50 percent faster than New York City, 70 percent faster than Atlanta, 10 times faster than San Francisco, 17 percent faster than Orlando and 22 percent faster than Dallas. I feel good about what we’re doing on tourism. I feel good that our convention business is up $3 billion.”

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