Garry McCarthy Under the Gun

UNDER THE GUN: After a surprisingly chill NATO, Chicago’s police superintendent was the man of the hour. But the recent spate of violent weekends, and fear that the body count could continue to rise as summer marches on, threaten to tarnish the resumé of this one-time rising star

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Garry McCarthyGarry McCarthy was on his victory lap. NATO had ended two days before, it was warm and sunny, and the Chicago police superintendent stood with eight officers on the warning track of U.S. Cellular Field. As personal guests of Jerry Reinsdorf, the Chicago White Sox chairman, the group watched the team take batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins, mingling with the players as they wandered in and out of the dugout. But mostly everyone just fawned over McCarthy. A dozen reporters and TV cameras gathered in foul territory for an informal news conference, White Sox Manager Robin Ventura set aside his usual pregame preparations to say hello, and Reinsdorf himself walked onto the field and handed McCarthy a T-shirt with a White Sox logo over the Chicago flag.

The career cop worked the crowd with a swagger, stopping for a series of one-on-one TV interviews, clearly relishing the chance to discuss a subject other than the city’s rising murder numbers. In the seventh inning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel watched from the Sox broadcast booth as McCarthy and his officers—including one who was stabbed in the leg by a NATO protester—were honored on the field. Midceremony, Emanuel rose to his feet and clapped, like a general observing his troops on parade.


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On that day in late May, and in the two weeks that followed, the city and those who run it appeared to be under the superintendent’s spell. At a Cook County Board meeting on June 5, commissioners showered McCarthy with praise, comparing him to George Washington and John Wayne. A day later, at a City Council meeting, Alderman Nicholas Sposato offered up the ultimate in hyperbole, likening McCarthy to the warrior in Braveheart.

The salutes kept coming. Officials praised McCarthy’s decision to “lead from the front,” standing with his officers as they tried to keep protesters in line, enduring the same taunts, spit, urine, and physical abuse as the rank and file. They recalled the news conference on the first day of NATO, when McCarthy became emotional as he talked about his officers. “If you think it’s easy to ask people to do what they did, it’s not,” McCarthy said on camera, glancing downward, his voice cracking a bit. “Asking people to put themselves in harm’s way, knowing that they’re going to get assaulted, and to be able to stay there and take it—those guys were amazing.” For a few days, even McCarthy’s harshest public critics, the bloggers behind Second City Cop, were deferential.

Yes, NATO went smoothly, despite all the predictions to the contrary. But given the dire situation outside the meeting’s security perimeter, the postsummit lovefest seemed remarkably tone-deaf. The same weekend as NATO, 22 Chicagoans were shot and 7 were killed, including two boys, ages 12 and 14. (According to a recent analysis of homicides committed between March and October from 2007 to 2012, the city averaged 4.9 weekend murders during the warmer months.) The shootings happened in Ashburn, Roseland, South Chicago, and West Pullman, neighborhoods most visiting NATO dignitaries didn’t venture near.

The following weekend, while most Chicagoans celebrated Memorial Day, the death toll rose: 43 people were victims of gunfire, and 11 died. One of them was Malcolm Dowdy, 33, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who was killed as he left a holiday barbecue in South Shore. “People are becoming desensitized to violence. Gunshots ring out. Children keep playing,” said Denise Dixon, whose daughter was engaged to Dowdy. “We need somebody that’s going to take care of the community like they took care of the dignitaries that came here for NATO.”

Fair or not, much of that responsibility falls on the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, a position that is so intense, political, and high-profile that former chiefs say they never expected to hold on to the job for more than a few years. Enter Garry Francis McCarthy, a hard-charging vet of police departments in New York City and Newark, New Jersey. Emanuel brought him to Chicago in May 2011 on a promise to address the city’s gang problem, make the CPD run more efficiently, and rebuild officer morale.

But two months after McCarthy arrived, the murder toll—the stat by which police superintendents are most judged—began to inch upward. And after a brief winter respite, violence surged in March of this year. Through June 17, police reported 240 homicides, a 38 percent increase over the same period in 2011. The situation is particularly worrisome in light of statistics that show the number of murders and shootings starting to level off before McCarthy and Emanuel took over.

Of course, many factors contribute to an uptick in urban violence. But the current crime wave raises questions about the decisions made by McCarthy—an outsider who came here armed with a playbook of policing strategies he learned on the East Coast—and the man who has been his primary supporter, Mayor Emanuel. Why don’t the crime-fighting strategies that worked so effectively in New York and Newark seem to be working here? And if they aren’t working, why isn’t McCarthy changing them? If the violence continues at the same troubling rate, the city will surely demand answers, and McCarthy, who was once compared to George Washington, John Wayne, and Braveheart, could receive a much less flattering title: ex-superintendent.

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Photography: Jeff Sciortino



2 years ago
Posted by valas

What has"fractured" the gangs is CHA's scattered site housing program. The high rise projects came down and now working class black families own taxpayer money is being used to ruin their historic communities by dumping unwanted trouble makers on their doorstep. The latest census data shows that anyone who can leave these neighborhoods is leaving. At this rate with the amount of CHA housing being located here the entire South Side will soon be one huge ghetto. We are told to get "pro-active" and help monitor our blocks, when we call 911 the parties and group hang-outs just get louder. The Chicago Housing Authority needs to get real with the known bad element that they are empowering and come up with a serious relocation plan. Maybe then the police will take their role seriously again.

2 years ago
Posted by Lawrence

PLEASE STOP WITH THE PC!!! Its not the fault of the police for crime and it's not the teachers' fault for students' lack of academic success. Yes they can both play their role but it is quite minor in contrast to the real causes. Most know what those causes are but it is politically incorrect to state those causes and the media just goes on and on and on and on with their nonsense misdirected finger pointing.

2 years ago
Posted by PennDL

McCarthy may be good at what he does and his leadership may be as good as it gets. But, to solve this problem he has to know the functions and variables. Like the professor said, the cause in many cases is "desperation". And, that's a state of mind. Is McCarthy in any way capable of changing how they think about their very small world?

2 years ago
Posted by Saltycop

Excellent article, McCarthy will be the one to take the fall for the rise in violence, for reasons beyond his control. For the last few years our police force has been cut by attrition. Instead of Downsizing the dept. the city saw it fit to just not hire new officers, not even ones to cover the couple hundred we lose to retirement each year. Much like the corporate world the dept was encouraged to do more with less. This obviously only works until a point when the workload tips the scales and "the less" cannot keep up with the demand anymore. Unlike business though we don't lose profits or productivity, law enforcement counts the losses in victims and body counts. I think we can all agree that the tipping point has been reached. There are few ways back and all require honesty from the dept, city, and its citizens. First the dept must be brought back to its full strength, which will take years, and a city wide unit must be reinstated. The article itself proves this, you need a force of a few hundred officers that can be sent to an area for saturation to put own violent upticks on short notice, it is more effective than anyone gives it credit for. Next McCarthy must realize that his strategy isn't working, this isn't New York and it certainly isn't Newwark, the level of violence the people of Chicago are capable of is astounding. Chicago's gang culture is unique and a strategy must be formulated or each individual area. But most importantly people must be called out for what they do or do not do. You can have all the police in the old but if a neighborhood doesn't want to change it won't. We must admit that communities on the south and west sides have created two generations of children that have no regard for life, zero impulse control, and believe that violence is the first and best problem solving skill. Until these communities stand up and call themselves out nothing will change.

2 years ago
Posted by Usetobeworkingcop

You cant really blame the Sup for crime but you can point a few fingers elsewhere. I am only speaking as a cop who use to LOVE the job and was always first to work and last to leave . I was excited to develop information in order to execute some search warrants and get some bad guys. Those days are long gone on the CPD. Too many of the workers have had their wings clipped. By this I mean they have been thwarted in their efforts of proactive policing. This has been done again and again to the working police. When complaints against working police get investigated it seems that ever since the SOS scandals, the punishment is far greater than the allegation. What will a drug or gang organiztion do when a certain officer or group of officers are hurting their business by arresting them and making a dent in their profits by doing so? They will find a way to get rid of those cops who are hurting their business. They will file false accusations, lawsuits,etc. The department's IAD and also IPRA drag their feet on investigations sometimes even four years to complete them. Then the cop gets sent to the Police Board , which needs much revision. How do people who are not present for the hearing get to decide the fate of a persons employment? How absurd and less than fair . Our CFD counterparts get an arbitrator who hears. sees body language, etc..We get a hearing officer who breaks the case down to the board once a month and at times there may be several cases to decide in a single meeting. Yes, the board gets copies of transcripts, video footage,etc.. But do they really take time to view and hear everything? Not liely since they all have 9-5 professions to tend to. So basically if the CITY wants to decrease the crime spree BACK YOUR GUYS/GALS in blue. Not saying that we need rogue police but we do need to realize that good police work operates in the GRAY not black and white. You have to be innovative and clever and outsmart the street criminals and then turn them against each other in order to gather more intelligence and continue the proactive policing.

2 years ago
Posted by maybeso

and the Sup will say-----Let's look at the charts and graphs again...blah blah blah NY and Newark. This guy comes into town and doesnt want to talk to the men and women in blue here and those that have served here ...he has NEW ideas, his ideas. He's going to save us. It near impossible to sit in the same room with his mans ego. Its not confidence, its arrogance and in my opinion ignorance. So busy taking all the air time to gets his kudo's on NATO. Everytime you turned on the TV there he was patting himself on the back. He and the city GOT LUCKY. THe protest fools werent organized enough. But he couldnt leave it at that....people starting laughing "there he is again he loves that camera." When in reality, it was just smoke and mirrors to distract from what was really going on in the city. Cops are not spending wayyyyy too much time filling out forms for his charts and graphs rather than on the street doing the job. Eventually he says its going to work....hang in there...Eventually???? If not by this year, maybe next? But one thing we can count on....he will be on TV to do an interview about it...and tell us again how it all started with the PILGRIMS.

2 years ago
Posted by Catherine537

What is really new this year are the wilding incidents in formerly safe neighborhoods: groups attacking one or two people in the Gold Coast, Streeterville, Loop, East Lakeview etc., tourists, women and children, etc. Apparently two out of towners like Emanuel and McCarthy don't get that job 1 is to keep safe neighborhoods safe. Not new but more disgusting is the shooting of children. Cut the tourism budget and hire more cops, bring back the strike forces or it won't be only McCarthy who loses his job. This is Emanuel's snowstorm on 79 moment.

2 years ago
Posted by gpblight

Noah...THANKS for TELLING THE TRUTH about what really is going on in CHICAGO.

We need the MEDIA everywhere to tell our sad story. Neighborhood people for DECADES have been asking for help in neighborhoods that NEVER COMES. After decades 1.2 mil have left and we are about 1/3 smaller than say 35 years ago.

We need HELP from OUTSIDERS because locally we are not able to SOLVE OUR OWN PROBLEMS.

The MEDIA is doing a great job in starting to air the TRUTH on the streets instead of relying exclusively on interviews from politicians, nfps, unions or others who have a vested interest in defending their positions and saying what a "great job" they are doing and how we in the neighborhoods have "perceptual errors" and don't do our fair share to help. All of that is bahooey.

All of that rhetoric is put in place so BILLIONS can be spent for decade after decade after decade...maybe this is no 4 decades.

Thank you for this piece...and getting the word out how desperate we are for HELP. Anyone can be shot and killed on the streets of chicago at any moment of the day. That doesn't even seem to phase those who are in the positions to set policy.

They just set up more failed initiatives, do more grandstandings, and BILLIONS are wasted.

In my high crime district less than 1 person is arrested by a police officer per month...from data of a few months ago. PONDER THAT ONE...

Mike Flannery has done some nice work in the past few days

Scott Pelley is doing pieces although not focusing on reforms that are people friendly

Huffington Post is also doing a great job.

THANKS NOAH...THANKS MIKEb...We need HELP. We need OUTSIDERS to help...

It is a fascinating, and relatively SIMPLE problem to solve...all of these inner city issues. The current players are TOTALLY UNABLE to FIX these problems for good.

This is sad and needs to be changed.

2 years ago
Posted by westsider4

Mayor Emanuel's arrogance is catching up to him. He's been a failure on education and crime. It's his smug, self-satisfied, know it all attitude that makes him ignore people in communities who want to improve the city. Twenty one people were shot this past weekend in Chicago.

2 years ago
Posted by taz101

The StreetLightMarksman has his head up a$$
as TrueNewsUsa and SecondCityCop have pointed out again and again
did Skyline know their story of the 11-17-12 incident at oak street beach was "suppressed"? SlumTimes and the Trashbune didn't even mention it let alone the tv news
those groups are in cahoots with Mayor sweetlips and Mcbefuddled
the city is going from a dive to a graveyard spin and the mayor wants spend 55 million on a park
meanwhile CPD has to scurry around rotating officers through the districts because they are like 4000 shy of true force
more are retiring every month nobody getting hired
just ask the FOP they have to tell you
my advice if things don't change get a FOID card while you can
better to be judged by twelve,.. then carried by six
thank you

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