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Mayor targets drinking, gambling and urinating on the public way

37th Ward Alderman EmmM. Mitts Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday April 13 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times

37th Ward Alderman Emma M. Mitts at Chicago City Council meeting, Wednesday, April 13, 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 6, 2013 6:21AM

Drinking, gambling and urinating on the public way are crimes that, Chicago Police contend, can “ruin the social fabric” of a neighborhood and set the stage for more serious crimes, including prostitution, gang loitering and narcotics sales.

They’re also crimes with the highest rates of default, with 50 to 70 percent of all offenders ignoring the fine and blowing off administrative hearings.

That could change, thanks to a mayoral crackdown advanced Thursday.

The City Council’s Public Safety committee approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to add six months of jail time and double the maximum fine — to $1,000 for drinking and urinating on the public way and $400 for gambling — for violators who fail to pay their initial fines and are no-shows at administrative hearings.

Similar penalties are already in place for offenders who ignore their marijuana tickets.

Deputy chief of patrol Steve Georgas told aldermen it’s high time the city gets tough on violations that, if left unpunished, can have a “profound and cumulative effect” and “ruin the social fabric” of a neighborhood.

“For these three offenses, the rates of default have been in the 50 to 70 percent range. . . . Residents forced to observe these behaviors eventually become numb to these violations of decency and unacceptable behavior. As a result, the scale of acceptable behavior gradually falls away,” Georgas said. “This sort of unchecked behavior will then lead to further disorder and can ultimately lead to other crimes such as solicitation, narcotics sales and gang loitering. That is why it is imperative that we enforce these quality of life issues that are being ignored, so offenders realize their behavior will not be accepted.”

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said the ordinance could be a pivotal tool in a portion of his North Side ward struggling to control gang violence, loitering and public drinking. “I met the new foot patrolman the other day who told me there’s an individual who just got out of jail — hard-core gang member with a long rap sheet. To celebrate getting out of jail, he did two of the three things cited here,” Osterman said, refusing to say which ones.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) sought assurances that police would be “careful” with the new tool and use it to target, what he called the “right people” instead of “going after vulnerable populations or the homeless.”

Georgas replied, “The law is the law. We treat everything in the same manner. We look at everybody in the same manner.”

The Chicago Sun-Times disclosed on Feb. 5 that Emanuel was having the ordinance rewritten that empowers Chicago Police officers to issue “administrative notices of violation.”

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy let the cat out of the bag during a Jan. 23 CompStat meeting, saying the upcoming changes to the municipal code would plug a “major hole in our efforts to fight crime.”

Cracking down on quality-of-life crimes is something McCarthy has been harping on since he arrived in Chicago from Newark, N.J.

On the day he was appointed, McCarthy described how Newark’s police crackdown on loud music and public urination paved the way for a reduction in more serious crime. Officers who stopped to talk to the beer-drinking man on the corner probably stopped a shooting, McCarthy said then.

“Quality of life and CompStat, I’ve learned, are the two cornerstones of crime reduction,” he said that day.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields called the decision long overdue for quality-of-life offenders who blow off their fines for Administrative Notices of Violation or ANOVs.

“We write ANOVs knowing they’re never going to get paid. It would be a great tool that, the next time you see the guy after he hasn’t paid and he’s committing the same violation as he did last month, now we get to lock ’em up,” Shields said.

“The ANOV is not well-equipped to deal with the gang-bangers of the streets of Chicago. It doesn’t have teeth. You could do it 100 times in a row and it makes no difference. There are people who have no intention of ever paying. These offenders really don’t care about their credit rating. But, they will care when the police start locking them up.”

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