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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THE FIRST YEAR: Unfortunately for McCarthy, 2012 began with unusual violence. From January to May—even before the historically deadly summer months—there were 203 murders, almost half the total of the previous year. By contrast, murders in the first year of his predecessor, Jody Weis, followed a bell curve: a rise in homicides outpacing what McCarthy saw in his first summer, followed by a dramatic decline. Source: Chicago Police Department


Murder Capital of America? »
Progress in decreasing homicides is difficult to sustain

In April, McCarthy’s particular brand of law enforcement was on full display in Lawndale. For a few months, police had been doing undercover surveillance on a suspected drug market run by the gang New Breeds near the corner of 19th and Troy Streets. On April 19, officers closed in, arresting nine members and seizing drugs, a gun, cash, and two stolen cars.

The day after the bust, McCarthy stood on the corner dressed in his dark blue uniform and spoke to reporters. Behind him, dozens of city workers in their reflective vests were mowing the vacant lots, trimming trees, washing away graffiti, and picking up trash.

Sure, it might have been a bit of theatre for the reporters’ benefit—but it was also, McCarthy insists, a reflection of the fact that he wants to improve these neighborhoods in ways that go beyond simply making arrests. “This is a different strategy that we’re using to target our street gangs and target the cash flow by which they function,” McCarthy said.

From that point on, police officers were going to “maintain beat integrity,” McCarthy explained, and make themselves highly visible on the beleaguered block, parking a squad car on the corner around the clock and constantly patrolling certain streets until they believed the drug dealers were gone permanently. “What we’re looking for is lasting results,” he told the reporters. “We’re not willing to just make some arrests and walk away.”

The next speaker was Maria Pena, the commander of the Ogden District (10th) and the officer ultimately responsible for following through on what McCarthy had just described. Pena said that there would be a community meeting the next Tuesday evening where officers and residents could discuss ways to unite and keep the gangbanging and drug dealing at bay.

The reporters seemed unimpressed. All they saw was a garbage-free block. “Aren’t you just giving the dealers a nicer street corner to deal drugs?” one asked.

McCarthy responded: “What we’ve done traditionally in law enforcement is arrest narcotics dealers and then walk away. So now we [eliminate] the market. We’re not leaving until the demand is crushed and the community can step up and hold on to this corner.”

Eliminating the market for drugs might be a tall order. But when it comes to police presence, McCarthy kept his word. At presstime, a squad car remained stationed around 19th and Troy. As one car finished its shift, another would take its place. Gone are the days when neighbors would see drug users walking up the block or hear gang members calling out “baldhead,” warning one another whenever a cop was nearby. It was quiet. Even the thumbnail-size bags of crack that once littered the sidewalk had mostly vanished.

“If the cops didn’t do this, it would go right back to the way it was,” says Robert Werner, a health care administrator who has lived on the block with his wife and three children for eight years. Werner says that in May he saw something he’d never seen there before: Balloons tied to a front porch. A child was having a birthday party.

Still, Werner and his neighbors wonder how long the constant police presence will last. They watch the news. They hear about city budget cuts, the police department’s manpower issues, and, most of all, the violence. The Ogden District led the city in homicides—24—as of mid-June. But while other officers raced from call to call, the patrol car on their block hardly moved. It was there during the NATO weekend, when many officers were reassigned downtown. It was even there the weekend of June 9, when 16 people were shot in the district. Cops sped from crime scene to crime scene, but the car stayed put around 19th and Troy.

* * *

When McCarthy sat down on Monday, June 11, for an interview at the Erie Café in River North—trailed by his news affairs director and his younger daughter, Kimberly, who is spending her college summer break in Chicago—he seemed to be in a state of crisis control. The weekend had been rough citywide: 53 Chicagoans were shot, and 9 were killed.

It was just after 6 p.m., and the superintendent looked tired. Rubbing his eyes and ordering a Bud Light, he said that he had spent the early morning going from TV station to TV station, urging people to take the long view and consider that gangs and violence are deeply entrenched in the city. “It didn’t start overnight, and it’s not going to be repaired overnight,” he said on NBC’s morning show. In interview after interview, he insisted that overall crime numbers are down from last year and second-quarter shootings are 8 percent lower than the same period in 2011.

The numbers depend on how you slice them, of course, and few are better than McCarthy at spinning statistics to prove a point or argue against another—a skill honed during his days running CompStat for the NYPD. “When every category of crime is going in the right direction except for one,” McCarthy says, referring to homicides, “does that mean the numbers are up?”

Well, yes. The spike in headline-grabbing violence began one weekend in March, when 49 people were shot and 10 were killed, including a six-year-old girl from Little Village caught in gang crossfire while playing on her front porch in broad daylight. Afterward, a furious Emanuel called the level of violence in Chicago “unacceptable.”

That’s when McCarthy announced a gang audit to help police better understand what they are up against. But the bad news has only continued, with bloodshed spiking on warm weekends.

In the aftermath, there has been outrage, promises to take action, and more shootings. The day after our interview, McCarthy announced his Violence Reduction Overtime Initiative, a new plan to pay officers overtime to work extra hours in troubled areas. He followed this with a made-for-media “roll call” on Saturday, June 16, in which he instructed officers to get out of their cars and be aggressive.

By the end of that weekend, 35 people had been shot and 7 killed.

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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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