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Top cop McCarthy defends strategies in face of City Council grilling

City Council Budget Committee questioned police commissioner Gerry McCarthy City Hall October 24 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times-

City Council Budget Committee questioned police commissioner Gerry McCarthy at City Hall on October 24, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times-

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:19AM

Five months after being hailed for his handling of the NATO Summit, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy was grilled Wednesday by aldermen demanding more police hiring, arguing for the redeployment of existing officers and questioning his vision for ending the bloodbath on Chicago’s streets.

“When you get on TV and say in the month of July and August, shootings decreased or whatever you say, we don’t feel that. Not at all,” said Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), asking for citywide reallocation of officers — something Chicago mayors and police superintendents have refused to do for decades.

Even staunch mayoral allies such as Ald. Danny Solis (25th) questioned McCarthy sharply.

“You’ve been here now a little over a year. You’ve done some good things. Many of my colleagues mentioned the way you handled NATO. But I’m still trying to grasp what is that vision that you have where we’re gonna get violence down and murders down in the city,” Solis said.

But McCarthy insisted that his anti-gang strategies are taking hold and that Chicago has enough police officers to maintain that progress.

“There are no studies that show more cops mean less murders. It’s what those officers are doing,” McCarthy said. “In 2008, when there were more than 500 murders in this city, there were about 1,000 more officers — 1,000 more than today.”

Aldermen from across the city have demanded an increase in police manpower beyond the 500 officers Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to hire in 2013 to keep pace with attrition, but they have not figured out how to pay for it.

On Wednesday, McCarthy took his turn on the City Council hot seat and got a chance to plead his case for the mayor’s plan.

He argued that the 66 percent spike in homicides and 40 percent surge in shootings at the end of March that became a national media obsession has subsided — to 22 percent and eight percent higher respectively — thanks to a gang reduction strategy he billed as the first in Chicago history.

It includes “gang audits” to identify gang members and where they hang out, allowing police to respond quickly to areas where they think gangs might retaliate for shootings.

The strategy also includes disbanding specialized units in favor of putting more cops on the beat; holding commanders accountable at monthly CompStat meetings; shutting down open-air drug markets, and making the cleanup permanent by saturating those neighborhoods with city and social services.

Since “we put that strategy in place at the end of March, we’re seeing results. Are they good enough? Absolutely not. Can I go back and change the first quarter? Absolutely not. But, the fact is, we’re trying something different. My expectation is, it’s going to work,” McCarthey said.

“We changed our method of operation first. You’re talking about people who really liked being in those task forces who have no accountability, no connection with the community and could run around the city playing cowboy. That’s not good policing. That’s not what modern policing should look like,” he said. “And that’s why we’re changing what we’re doing.”

Testifying at City Council budget hearings, McCarthy argued that Chicago has more police officers per capita than New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and any other city in the nation with more than 1 million people.

He said 87 percent of the 1,000 officers reassigned from desk duty and specialized units since Emanuel took office were deployed to the 12 police districts with the most shootings.

“We rank No. 4 in officers per capita in the entire country. That’s a fact that’s been little-noticed, little attention has been drawn to it. And, I think we’ve kind of created a monster here if you will, in the sense that we keep talking about it and, therefore, it becomes factual,” he said.

In May, McCarthy was hailed as a hero for leading his troops from the front during the NATO summit and diffusing a potentially volatile situation at Michigan and Cermak.

On Wednesday, he was brought back down to earth by aldermen from high-crime districts who were not buying the argument that McCarthy’s strategies — and an upcoming change in 911 dispatch policies — will free enough officers to stop the bleeding.

“Over 450 [murders] is a lot. And it’s really a lot for us or in districts with high-crimes because that’s where they’re all happening. We really feel that. So, if you look at a stat that says there were no murders this week, it feels like [there] was,” Thomas said. She added, “Redeployment is what we’ve been asking for. Maybe we say it wrong, but this is what we want throughout the districts . . . We need this citywide — a reallocation of resources to the districts with the highest need because they have the highest crime.”

McCarthy said he’s trying to put the most and best cops in the “most distressed” neighborhoods, but, “We don’t want to rob from Peter to pay Paul.”

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) shared Thomas’ frustration.

“I understand your vision, and I understand what you’re saying. But, in the meantime, people are getting shot. Innocent people are getting shot. In each of my districts, the murder rate is up. And I’ve got incidents that are being committed by females — age 14, 15, 16 and 17 — that are robbing people with guns,” Hairston said. “I know that we keep talking about all of the numbers and how citywide we’re doing better. But to me, it really doesn’t matter what those numbers say as long as people do not feel safe in their neighborhoods.”

Solis shifted the focus away from McCarthy push for stricter laws to track gun histories.

Noting that the city has had “limited success” passing gun legislation in Springfield, Solis said, “There’s a lot of frustration among many of my colleagues — especially in those areas on the South Side and the West Side where a lot of this violence has been the most troubling.”

He added, “If you’re set on what the number of police we’re gonna have in the city — even when we fulfill our goals after this budget — what other things can be happening?”

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said Chicago desperately needs 500 officers — beyond Emanuel’s 500 — to solve a severe manpower shortage that has stacked up 911 calls on busy summer nights.

“The most frustrating part of my job is . . . listening to the police radio and listening to beat officers given five, six, ten assignments at a time. That just means we don’t have enough cars on the street,” Munoz said.

Pressed on where he would find the $50 million needed to hire 500 additional officers, Munoz said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The mayor wanted an extended school day. We found the money. The mayor wanted to give additional services to youth in our city budget. We found it. There’s got to be a will to do this.”

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