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Plan calls for moonlighting cops, merchants’ cash to stop mobs

Updated: April 20, 2013 6:23AM

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has a plan to prevent a repeat of the ugly mob attacks that have plagued River North and downtown Chicago the past two summers: moonlighting, uniformed police officers paid for by local merchants.

Reilly wants to let local chambers of commerce, business improvement districts and “special service area” taxing districts hire off-duty Chicago Police officers to supplement regular police patrols.

Currently, Chicago Police officers are permitted to wear their uniforms only when they are working for the city or moonlighting for the CTA or Navy Pier.

Reilly’s ordinance, quietly introduced at last week’s City Council meeting, would allow off-duty officers to wear their uniforms while being paid $30 an hour by local businesses to work a minimum of six-hour shifts.

The arrangement would be open to commercial strips across the city. But it’s clearly timed to prevent a spring and summer rerun of the ugly mob attacks.

“Perception is a big deal — especially in commercial corridors. If people perceive an area to be less safe, they’re less likely to visit,” Reilly said Monday.

“Visibility is a deterrent. Potential offenders are less likely to commit a crime if they see a uniformed officer in the area. ... There are certain areas, especially commercial corridors, where local businesses and residents are looking to see more police visibility. It helps provide stability and makes people more comfortable spending their money with local merchants.”

Reilly said merchants in River North and the Loop have expressed interest in piloting the new program. But, if the idea is promoted correctly, Reilly anticipates commercial strips across the city will jump on the bandwagon.

“This initiative is intended to ... supplement on-duty beat cops with in-uniform, off-duty police at no expense to taxpayers. This is not to allow for private security for a storefront. These would be officers managed and supervised by the Police Department within a broader geographic boundary in addition to regular beat patrols,” he said.

Four years ago, Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) and John Pope (10th) proposed empowering private security guards patrolling three Far South Side commercial strips to write tickets for everything from parking and moving violations to loitering, littering and graffiti.

Their proposal went nowhere after the Fraternal Order of Police called it a “dangerous” encroachment on the powers of rank-and-file police officers.

FOP President Mike Shields said Monday he’s all for having moonlighting officers dressed in uniform — but paid by local merchants — patrolling River North and the downtown area.

“This measure would not be necessary if the Chicago Police Department was properly manned. But this is something the business community is demanding. They’re taking it upon themselves to get it done. It’ll reduce the likelihood of mob attacks — the wilding that has happened over the last two years” downtown Shields said.

Shields pointed to the 22-year-old woman found shot to death last summer in a room at the Whitehall Hotel off Michigan Avenue. He also highlighted the 67-year-old Oak Brook oncologist stabbed last fall in the bathroom of a North Michigan Avenue restaurant by a career criminal who had been out of prison for just one week.

“When the hotels and restaurants have mob attacks, a stabbing and an actual murder on the Magnificent Mile, the business community has to respond — even if it means coming up with their own contributions to get uniformed officers on the street,” Shields said.

John Chikow, president of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, said there is no special service area on the Magnificent Mile and, therefore, “no money to use” to hire moonlighting officers.

“We’ve looked at it twice but decided not to move forward,” he said. “Businesses on Michigan Avenue already supplement [Chicago Police]. They’ve got internal security. They’re pretty self-sufficient on cleaning and landscaping. That’s been the history for 100 years.”

The latest overtime initiative comes at a time when Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has credited his plan to flood 10 “hot zones” with up to 400 moonlighting police officers a day for producing a record low number of murders in February not seen since January 1957.

Noting that the city is spending more than $1 million a week on those 400 officers, Shields said, “I don’t see the violence reduction initiative being in place forever. Besides, those officers are picked by seniority. This [Reilly initiative] would get some of the younger guys.”

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