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Chicago Is Not Helpless

A recent Tribune editorial asked the question most of us Chicago residents would like an answer to: Is Chicago helpless?

The headlines! Nine dead, 36 wounded on Easter weekend with very similar numbers for the previous week. Some Chicagoans are thinking, Wow! It's here, Chicago's rite of spring, gang violence, scores of our youths gunned down in our neighborhoods.

Then comes the usual outcry.

It's the guns!

It's the cops!

It's the judges!

Then comes one defensive press conference after another, announcing and denouncing blame by the authorities. Statistics are rolled out, plan after plan is said to have been implemented, and shouts of success are trumpeted.

And yet, we still find ourselves wondering if we are helpless.

I have a very limited and humble suggestion to contribute - but first, a little history. I spent 33 years working the treets of our city as a patrol and tactical officer, and tactical sergeant, and retired as a department SWAT coordinator. I can say, resoundingly, that we are not helpless.

However, our current police chief, and the one before him, never worked our streets or lived in our communities before taking the job. Richard M. Daley's last choice the head the Chicago Police Department was Jody Weis, who on paper was a very specious choice indeed.

Running a big city police department with little or no experience proved to be very trying for him. With less than two months on the job he replaced more than 20 veteran commanders with people like himself (good-looking resumes).

He must have soon realized he was left with limited high-level institutional knowledge about what was up in this big city of complex gang structures. I am basing this on his infamous Garfield Park Gang Summit, where he actually told several assembled gangbangers to knock off the shootings. This was so startling to so many of us who have worked the streets for years that we couldn't help but think, Wow, this guy cannot be serious!

Blame the root cause of urban violence on parenting, blame it on guns, blame it on poverty; either way, simply telling them to stop or they will feel the heat isn't going to work.

Current police chief Garry McCarthy came to Chicago and stated that he could do more with less; he promptly disbanded the specialized units that were at least keeping intelligence and making hundreds of street stops that are so very critical in fighting gang violence.

When McCarthy finally realized that his more-with-less philosophy was not working well enough to prevent Chicago from being compared to war zones, he laid out more than $100 million in overtime pay to keep more officers on the streets longer. Then he sent hundreds of desk jockeys who hadn't seen the streets for years to join them.

Earlier this month, FBI director James Comey paid our city a visit and told us that our gang problem was unique and indeed one of the worst in the nation.

Wow! I really have to say I hope our powers to be already knew that. The see-saw policy changes from outsiders, though, suggest otherwise.

Now we see that the U.S. attorney's office here is restructuring in part to (ostensibly) provide more focused help on our unique brand of violence.

Even more people who do not know the streets very well getting into our business! The very reason our specialized units were disbanded in the first place was to prevent the cowboying that tends to get those units in trouble. What's going to prevent federal cowboying?

So my humble contribution is this: Bring back the CPD's specialized gang units. This ought to be our thing. It once was. To wit:

"The Chicago Police Department was the poster child of reorganizing its gang unit. The unit was initially formed in 1967 as a gang intelligence unit. By the early 1980s, the unit quadrupled from 100 to 400 officers," a 2004 study funded by the Justice Department found.

However . . .

In the mid-1990s, the unit was reduced from a high of 450 personnel to approximately 100, concomitant with the department's implementation of a community-policing initiative (Weisel and Painter, 1997)

In 2000, the police superintendent basically disbanded its 100-person gang unit, redeploying half the unit's personnel to five area commands to work on homicides and half to the department's narcotics unit.

The disbanding of Chicago's unit occurred after the corruption of a gang investigator soured public and political confidence in the police but the dissolution of the unit compromised intelligence information about gangs.

After two children were injured by gang gunfire in April 2003, the city's mayor announced that "gangs would have to pay" (Main and Sweeney, 2003) and tactical teams of 30-40 personnel were deployed into gang areas to reduce crime, improve gang intelligence and to "be aggressive."

The CPD came full circle in 2008.

"A year after disbanding the scandal-plagued Special Operations Section, Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis is launching a similar unit to fight gangs, according to a draft copy of an internal police memo obtained by the Tribune," the paper reported.

"The new 115-officer unit will be known as the Mobile Strike Force, but its mission will be nearly identical to SOS."

Three years later, the Trib reported:

"Chicago police will disband two of its rapid response units once heralded as key components of the city's lowering crime rate, police union officials said.

"Effective Aug. 18, both the Mobile Strike Force and Targeted Response Unit will cease to exist, according to an announcement on Wednesday by the Fraternal Order of Police to its members."

Dizzy yet?

Well, there's more.

In January 2013, the Sun-Times reported that "Mayor Rahm Emanuel appeared to rip a page from the Daley administration's playbook Thursday when he announced he was moving cops from desk jobs [again] to 'saturation teams.'"


Chicago, as the FBI director said, has a uniquely embedded gang problem, and the police department ought to be fighting it with specialized veteran officers who know the lay of the land and are specifically trained to handle the violence, at least until those coveted social programs that will attack root causes actually come about.

When the president sent Americans after Osama bin Laden, he did not pick for the mission those who were looking for overtime pay or were being transferred out of clerical duties for budget reasons. He sent the very best we could muster - those who went been trained specifically and intensely for the job.

It is simply embarrassing to see an editorial asking if we as a city are helpless. The answer is No. But we need the right people on the front lines to do the job.


Previously by Bob Angone:
* Crime Is Up And Down.


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 27, 2014

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