Updated: June 24, 2011 2:15AM
When the Chicago Police, on orders of Supt. Garry McCarthy, swept down and arrested 120 members of a single gang in the last two weeks, they were pursuing a relatively new zero-tolerance strategy that research says actually works:
◆ Warn a gang that you will hammer them hard if they don’t stop shooting each other and innocent bystanders.
◆ Arrest them by the dozens at the first sign they have failed to take heed.
◆ Don’t let up.
Former Supt. Jody Weis first pursued this approach last summer when he sat down with gang leaders at the Garfield Park Conservatory and gave them fair warning: Stop the shooting or else.
When the gunplay continued, his police swept 160 members of two specific gangs off the streets, arresting them for drug offenses and other crimes. Gun killings, police report, quickly dropped 40 percent in that police district.
McCarthy has been less formal, unfortunately, in putting gangs on notice, but he’s generally adopted the same smart strategy. Anyone who cares about the safety of little girls who play in parks and elderly men who sit on front porches should cheer McCarthy on.
“It absolutely works,” said David Kennedy, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, talking about this police strategy. “Police make gang arrests all the time. What’s new is putting the gangs on prior notice that this is going to happen. The price for this stupid violence is that everybody is going to get arrested.”
Though McCarthy has never sat down with gang leaders, Kennedy said, he has spread the word forcefully from the moment he was named superintendent.
“There are all kinds of ways to talk to the streets,” said Kennedy, a main architect of this strategy. “Talk to them on the corners, in the evenings, at home. You can talk to them on television.”
Kennedy said that a formal evaluation of 13 separate studies of this policing strategy, to be published in the fall, will show that it results in a decline in gun violence of at least 35 percent in the months that follow. And when the police keep it up — as Cincinnati, most notably, has done for four years — the success continues.
Because gang leaders are running a business: selling drugs. They don’t want the cops raining down on them because some hot-headed foot soldier, feeling disrespected, shot somebody at a party.
The gang leader and fellow gang members can do much to put a lid on that sort of violence if they know the entire gang will suffer.
Murders in Chicago have been on the decline in recent years for a number of reasons, the crackdown on gangs being only one. In 2010, the number of murders citywide was the lowest since 1965.
It is also important to emphasize that McCarthy’s prior warning to the gangs, which seems to be essential to the effectiveness of this particular strategy, was not at all as clear and focused as the warning issued by Weis.
But if any gang member failed to hear McCarthy’s message before, they’ve heard it loud and clear in the last two weeks.
And summer is only beginning.