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Editorial: Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s latest strategy makes sense

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy  |  Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Updated: April 6, 2013 6:16AM

Murders dropped by half in Chicago last month, part of an early but promising trend that could be the result of smarter and more aggressive police work.

We hope that’s the case. Time will tell. Crime rates, including those for murder, go up and down for all sorts of reasons, including changes in the weather, unemployment rates, the price of illegal drugs and good luck or bad luck. It can take a year or more to say with confidence that any one response, such as a change in police tactics, is making the difference.

But Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s latest strategy makes obvious good sense — step up patrols in hot zones using cops on overtime and cops who previously sat at desks. It’s an effort that deserves the City Council’s support and a little patience.

McCarthy, in an interview with reporter Frank Main, described the year-to-year drop in murders — from 186 to 156 in the last five months, and from 28 to 14 just in February — as “progress, not a victory.”

The difficulty of interpreting crime statistics was equally clear in a Sun-Times report last week about climbing petty crime rates on the CTA. As the story pointed out, the increase came despite the presence of 3,600 surveillance cameras at rail stations. But as the story also noted, much of that reported increase in crime might have been because of more aggressive police work on the CTA; more people who grab cellphones or jump turnstiles are getting caught.

McCarthy is a big believer in arresting turnstile jumpers. He calls it “guarding the gate,” cracking down on fare evaders to keep criminals off the CTA to begin with.

If that’s what’s going on here, it’s the best kind of police work. And, as CTA President Forrest Claypool took pains to point out in a recent Sun-Times letter to the editor, rates of serious crime on the CTA are very low.

All the same, it is remarkable how many people break the law even when they know they’re on Candid Camera.

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