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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Chicago isn’t New York. Or Newark. Experts estimate that our gang population ranges anywhere from 70,000 to 125,000; according to the CPD, gangs commit three-quarters of the city’s homicides. “Gang violence in Chicago is something that’s totally different from what I experienced in New York and Newark,” says McCarthy, “where we had low-level bands of thugs who called themselves Bloods or Crips but were narcotics dealers.”

McCarthy’s citywide gang audit, completed in May, shows that Chicago now has 59 active street gangs with 625 factions. That’s up from 500 factions and 68 gangs in 2003. This continued fracturing of the local gangs, McCarthy believes, is the reason for the rash of recent violence.

The splintering stems from a lack of leadership; many of the highest-ranking chiefs are in prison or dead. “We took the generals out, and we now have the gangs being run by sergeants,” explains Leo Schmitz, the commander of the Englewood District (7th). “Instead of having an area, now they have blocks.” This means increased rivalry—and, as a result, more shootings.

Schmitz describes an adversary who is younger, more reckless, and more likely to pull a trigger. “Young people are making very quick decisions,” he says, “and most of the time they are the wrong ones.”

The audit information has become the foundation for McCarthy’s plan to combat gangs, informing a new computer system that puts updated intelligence in the hands of beat officers. Additional tactics include a new ballistics unit to aid in building criminal cases, the call-ins between gang members and officers, and the shutting down of liquor stores that double as hangouts. “This is not a new problem,” McCarthy said at a May 29 news conference, discussing his gang strategy. “What it is, is a new solution that we’re applying to it.”

One thing that McCarthy can’t do, however, is rely on units that specialize in fighting gangs—the teams that ­Hillard began disbanding as interim superintendent. McCarthy hasn’t moved to reinstate them, arguing that the officers’ expertise is better used in the districts. That’s one reason his gang strategy has failed to rouse support among the rank and file, whose job it is to proactively police the beats in the way their boss demands.

Police chiefs dating back to Phil Cline, who served from 2003 to 2007, relied on such specialized units. Under Cline and, later, Jody Weis, the units’ officers were chosen from among the department’s best and received special training. The work was dangerous and extremely stressful. “The beat officer is the backbone of the department,” says a former high-ranking police official. “Nobody is disagreeing with that. But a backbone needs to be supported by muscle. Those guys were the muscle.”

Those units operated in a militaristic way, not unlike Army Special Forces. While beat cops can spend entire shifts answering the millions of 911 calls the department receives each year, the specialized units would, for example, saturate a block after a shooting in an effort to prevent retaliation or patrol a neighborhood that had seen a series of sexual assaults.

Several former specialized-unit officers interviewed for this story recall the way gang members knew them by their unit number, say, a 42 or 44 on their cars. “They feared us,” one says. “I’m not trying to be arrogant. It’s just that when you’d pull somebody over, you’d see them looking. They’d see the unit number and put their hands on their car.”

For some communities, aggressive cops, known as “jump out boys,” represented the worst of the department. Revelations in 2006 that some officers robbed and kidnapped residents, and the accusations a year later that one officer plotted to murder another, bolstered that point of view.

McCarthy believes that specialization is the enemy of community policing—an idea that took root long before he came to Chicago. “With specialization, those guys have zero connection to the community,” he says. “They offend a lot of people because not everybody is a perp.”

Even so, it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of specialized units. Consider what happened when Cline began using them to target gangs, guns, and drugs in certain neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Chicago went from being the murder capital of the nation in 2003, with 601 people killed, to 453 the next year (see “Murder Capital of America?”). That was the first time since the 1960s that fewer than 500 murders had been recorded.

Homicides remained under the 500 mark until 2008. The previous fall, in the wake of ongoing scandal involving the rogue officers, Dana Starks, the interim superintendent between Cline and Weis, shelved the specialized units. Homicides began to rise. After Weis took the job, he convinced Mayor Daley in September 2008 to reinstate the units, promising that, as chief, he’d implement better training and more accountability.

According to Weis, the city’s sub-500 murder totals in 2009, 2010, and 2011 were a direct result of that decision. “Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face,” he says.

“Everyone loves the idea of the beat cop,” adds a South Side officer who worked in a specialized unit and didn’t want to be named because he is not authorized to talk to reporters. “You’re Officer Friendly; you’re walking around, whistling, twirling your baton. I get it. It’s a great story. But that’s not where we are right now in society. We’ve got some neighborhoods that are hell on earth. Officer Friendly can only be as friendly as the neighborhood allows.”

In the city’s most violent districts, police officers say, they may be assigned half a dozen jobs or more—covering everything from traffic accidents to assaults—at the start of a shift. Their watches are spent racing from call to call, while anything that requires investigation stacks up. Officers describe having to weigh whether to make an arrest. The process “downs” their car, taking it off patrol for a few hours or so, which leaves their beat uncovered and puts more pressure on their fellow officers.

Sometimes, they say, when it comes to minor offenses, they just look the other way.

* * *

According to criminologists, a rise in violence can be caused by a myriad of political, social, and economic factors. Tying the effectiveness of Chicago’s top cop to murder numbers, some say, is especially unfair.

“Chicago is not Mexico,” stresses John Hagedorn, a criminologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The violence here isn’t related to things law enforcement can affect: organized gang problems or wars or disputes. In Chicago, you have spontaneous problems that are all related to desperation.”

And former police chief Phil Cline thinks it’s too early to say whether the superintendent’s strategy is failing to quell the rising tide of violence. “You have to give it time,” he says. “I always used to say this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Cline is quick to point out that he had more troops—13,500—than the roughly 12,000 that McCarthy inherited (a number that police union officials say boils down to 9,000 on patrol once you subtract command staff, detectives, and administrators). Manpower, many argue, is a major issue. “Their crime strategies aren’t working because they don’t have the personnel to enforce them,” says an officer who works in a North Side district. “We’re outnumbered.”

As far as the climbing murder toll is concerned, the most pivotal moment in Chicago’s recent past might not be the day McCarthy landed here but rather Mayor Emanuel’s making good on his campaign pledge to put 1,000 more police on the street. In doing so, he laid the groundwork for eliminating the specialized units. According to the police union, it was the only way to make the numbers work. “He took the specialized units that patrol in high-crime neighborhoods and put them in beat cars,” says Mike Shields, the president of the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Bit by bit, Emanuel reached his magic number of 1,000, announcing in October 2011 that he’d fulfilled his promise. Shields says the move was made for two reasons: The city didn’t have enough officers to answer 911 calls, and the mayor chose “to balance his budget at the expense of public safety.” Chicago repeatedly asked the mayor’s office to respond to this criticism. Emanuel’s spokesperson, Tarrah Cooper, responded with an e-mail outlining the city’s antiviolence initiatives: introducing CompStat, shutting down problem liquor stores, and so on.

McCarthy disagrees with the idea that he’s just following orders. “Those [previous] philosophies on policing, I don’t agree with,” he says. “We’re going to do it the way I think it should be done.” During the interview at the Erie Café, the lifelong cop makes a point to say that the mayor does not “micromanage” him. “He tells me what he’s concerned about and then lets me run the drill.”

A server brings the superintendent his chicken Parmesan. McCarthy expresses concern over the spate of early summer murders but has confidence that a turnaround is still possible. “We had some issues in the first quarter,” he concedes, “but we’ve been able to turn that around in the second quarter. While a lot of people are ready to give up on the year, I want to end it down with shootings and murders, which means we have some ground to make up.”

If the killings don’t stop, another factor will come into play: Chicago politics. And ever the good soldier, McCarthy likely will be the one to take the fall.



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.

1 year 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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