RIVER NORTH — Chicago's top cop called the U.S. war on drugs "a wholesale failure" Thursday and said a "holistic approach" to the problem has worked to snap the ties between drugs and gang violence in the city's roughest neighborhoods.
"The war on drugs in the United States has been a wholesale failure," Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said in a lunch address to the City Club of Chicago in River North.
Advocating a "holistic approach" to a complex problem, McCarthy said the CPD had success in Lawndale by cracking down on drug markets wherever violence occurred, because gangs there are more focused on narcotics distribution. McCarthy said the department has shut down drug markets and subsequently flooded the area with uniformed officers whenever the drug trade produced gang violence on the streets.
"If they're businessmen, they will figure out that violence is bad for their business," he said, adding that the tactic had produced results, producing an 80 percent reduction in the violent-crime rate in West Lawndale.
"What was working in Englewood was not working on the West Side, and as it turns out we were using the wrong medicine for what ails us," McCarthy said.
In Englewood, he said, where gang rivalries and retaliatory shootings were to blame for many of the city's murders last year, McCarthy said cops had to focus more on the individuals involved, calling it "hot-people policing."
"It's a small cadre of people who are responsible for the vast majority of crime — anywhere," McCarthy said. He credited Deputy Chief Leo Schmitz, appointed district commander in Englewood last year, with cracking down on the gang rivalries that produced street violence.
"Man, did he turn that place around," McCarthy said. "If we can turn Englewood around, we can turn around any single part of this city."
McCarthy said shootings were down 30 percent from last year in Chicago, and murders were down 40 percent. "To me, this is true community policing," he said, addressing the unique problems of each community and neighborhood
"I'm a big believer in the broken-windows theory," McCarthy added. "Taking care of the little things can prevent the big things from happening." He said strict enforcement of laws had helped keep gang members in line, and he credited Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council with recently stiffening sentences for minor violations.
He also repeated his call for sensible gun laws, pointing out that Hadiya Pendleton's alleged killer would not have been on the streets if the state had mandatory-minimum sentences for gun possession.
McCarthy added that possession of a loaded firearm in Illinois is the same class of felony as possession of untaxed cigarettes.
"Where is our priority?" McCarthy said. "Are you kidding me?"