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McCarthy: Murder dip isn’t just because of cold weather

The Chicago Police Departments newest graduating class recruits Navy Pier salute before being dismissed.  Tuesday March 26 2013. |

The Chicago Police Departments newest graduating class of recruits at Navy Pier salute before being dismissed. Tuesday, March 26, 2013. | Brian Jackson ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: April 28, 2013 6:28AM

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has an answer for some critics who insist on crediting chilly temperatures for the drop in the city’s murder rate so far this year.

In fact, McCarthy told the Sun-Times that his policing strategies have Chicago on track to finish one of its best quarters since 1959 — more than a half century ago.

“That means we had the worst winter in 54 years in this city,” McCarthy quipped.

McCarthy acknowledged weather influences but doesn’t cause or prevent crime. And some criminal justice experts did not exclusively credit the cold for what so far has been a drop of homicides of about 40 percent when compared to the same period in 2012.

They pointed to McCarthy’s new strategy of paying overtime to up to about 400 officers for nightly patrols of 20 zones identified in an analysis of violent crime in Chicago. Its implementation coincided with a historically low 14 murders in February — Chicago’s best month since 1957.

However, a frustrated McCarthy insisted Tuesday that approach is just one piece of a larger strategy he’s been putting into place over the last year.

That’s his explanation for why Chicago has tallied 67 murders so far this year compared to 111 during the same period in 2012. And he said people have forgotten that the murder rate began to drop during the fourth quarter of last year, even as Chicago reached a 2012 homicide count of 506, a 16 percent rise over 2011.

“Crime reduction is not about one thing,” McCarthy said. “It’s about everything that we do.”

“Everything” includes gang audits, new district commanders, “quality-of-life enforcement” and fugitive apprehension, he said.

“A year ago . . . we did not have a comprehensive gang violence reduction strategy,” McCarthy said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the drop in the murder numbers is the result of hard work by the Chicago Police Department.

“This is another step in the right direction,” he said, “and we will continue to focus on our multi-faceted strategy to improve safety in every community across Chicago.”

Robert Lombardo, an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at Loyola University Chicago, was quick Tuesday to credit McCarthy’s overtime strategy for the drop in crime. But he also blamed earlier cost-cutting and the disbanding of tactical units like the Mobile Strike Force for the city’s violent 2012.

“This whole crisis was caused by the budget cuts,” Lombardo said.

McCarthy shot back, as he has before, that the Mobile Strike Force didn’t work off the same three-year and one-year analysis CPD used to identify the 20 zones being patrolled today by officers working for overtime pay on a regular basis. And he said policing smarter is more effective than simple manpower increases.

“We have the most officers per capita of any large city in the country,” McCarthy said. The superintendent announced Monday he’s adding foot patrols to the zones where officers have already been working overtime. Sixteen officers — working straight time — are already joining the mobile overtime patrols nightly in one of the zones.

Those officers recently graduated from the police academy and finished a 12-week field training course. McCarthy said more will be added to the other zones as new officers finish that training program.

Dennis Rosenbaum, a professor of criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois Chicago, said that program will pay dividends down the road in terms of building a rapport and cooperation with local residents.

“It’s very hard to find out what’s going on in the community from inside the squad car,” Rosenbaum said.

But he said he thinks those targeted policing strategies are helping.

And as for the weather, he said, the “real test” will arrive soon enough. Temperatures are expected to tick up slightly as soon as this weekend — something some readers say in emails is the reason for crime.

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