Rahm Emanuel wants those involved in flash mobs, wildings ‘brought to justice’
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND FRANK MAIN Staff Reporters June 7, 2011 1:00PM
Updated: September 15, 2011 12:28AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Tuesday that downtown Chicago’s reputation as a safe place to live, work, play and shop is being undermined by text-messaging flash mobs and violent incidents of wilding.
Emanuel insisted the police department will hunt down every one of the thugs responsible for five weekend robberies in Streeterville. The mayor said he was on the phone with Acting Police Supt. Garry McCarthy over the weekend and again Tuesday morning about the crime spree that has already led to the arrests of five teenagers.
If there were 20 young people involved in the incident, as police and victims believe, McCarthy promised that he would track down and prosecute all 20 of them. On Tuesday, it was clear the edict came from the top.
“Police have already apprehended a number of the youths. And I reinforced to Supt. McCarthy that I wanted to see — not just a number of the youths — but every one of them brought to justice. If they’re responsible, we [need to] go get them. It’s part of our reputation, but it’s also part of our public safety,” Emanuel said.
Told that cops on the beat in the downtown area are appealing for reinforcements, Emanuel said: “Garry McCarthy has already spoken to this. I talked to him over the weekend on it. And I again talked to him this morning about it. … I just added 500 officers who were doing other things. I put them on the street in key areas dealing with violent crime. We aren’t done as it relates to that.”
McCarthy said he is putting officers on trains to spot flash mobs before they develop, and he is spreading out uniformed and plainclothes cops and mobile units throughout the downtown area.
How bad is the problem? There are conflicting reports.
Mary L. McCarthy, a Gold Coast resident who is not related to the new chief, said flash mobs are giving her second thoughts about venturing out at night for the first time in the 13 years she’s lived in a high-rise in the 1400 block of North State Parkway. On Friday night, a crowd of about 20 youths gathered outside her building, she said. She claimed the youths pulled people out of cars and taxicabs, leading the doorman to lock the doors to her building.
“We need a bigger police presence. I don’t know, maybe bringing horses back would help. A show of force would stop this nonsense. This does not portend well for the summer,” she said.
Police Near North District commander Kenneth Angarone, however, said police responded to the scene at North State Parkway but did not find a “bona fide incident.’’
Several officers have also told the Sun-Times they were recently warned by superiors to tell family members not to ride their bikes on the lakefront because of incidents of mobs pushing people off their bikes — and sometimes pushing cyclists into the lake.
But Angarone said police also investigated those claims and could not determine the incidents were bona fide.
Those conflicting accounts come on the heels of the closing of North Avenue beach on Memorial Day. Supt. McCarthy insisted it was because of heat-related problems beach-goers were suffering.
But one officer who asked not to be named said more than 500 youths got off Green Line trains from the West Side in a short period that day and started walking toward the lakefront. And many at the beach that day have said they were harassed by mobs of youths while there.
Emanuel said his understanding from the police is that the mobs are communicating through social-networking technology.
“The No. 1 goal is to deal with the youths who committed the crimes over the weekend and apprehend them. We’re on our way to doing that,” the mayor said.
Politicians and Michigan Avenue retailers victimized by text-messaging, shoplifting flash mobs have been walking a political tightrope. They’re trying to call attention to the problem, but not too much for fear of scaring law-abiding customers away from Chicago’s famed shopping district.
The delicate balance was evidenced by Emanuel’s halting response to the question of “how alarmed” he was about the weekend attacks.
“Look, you know last year this started. I’m not going give you my sense of how I feel. Except for you now know the new head of the police department has addressed this subject. He knows. I called him on the day of and this morning about it,” the mayor said.
Earlier this week, Supt. McCarthy insisted there are enough police resources downtown, that the strategy of attacking the problem is working and that shoppers, employees and residents have nothing to fear.
“Our reaction to it has been quick. It’s been swift and it’s been very effective. Sometimes, that has to be the thing that we’re focusing on. I believe that every crime can be prevented. But guess what? When crimes aren’t prevented, we have to turn them around very, very quickly and prevent the next incident from occurring. That’s what we’ve been able to do,” he said.
“I don’t believe that it’s going to be something that we need to worry about long-term. We have to knock this out. We have to knock it out quickly — and that’s what we’re doing.”
Asked if he intended to concentrate more officers in the downtown area, McCarthy said, “No. I don’t think that, at this point, we need re-deploy any officers. What we’re looking at is the cops we have, where they are and what they’re doing. And right now, I’ve got to tell you based on the incidents that happened over the weekend and the arrests that we’ve made, it’s been very successful.”