CHICAGO — Back in 2003, “some idiot from New York” dreamed up a new way to fight violent crime by flooding the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods with rookie cops patrolling on foot, Chicago’s top cop Gary McCarthy says.
The guy called it “Operation Impact” — and it actually worked. Crime dropped about 35 percent in targeted zones. In December 2008, the New York Times hailed the initiative as a success, reporting there were only 16 murders in the 75th Precinct — long known as the “murder capital of New York” after posting 126 homicides in 1993.
About that idiot, McCarthy says, “I’m talking about me.”
Now the police superintendent plans to revive his decade-old targeted foot patrols to chip away at Chicago’s shooting problem. His newly minted police officers will be dispatched to burn shoe leather on the night shift in the most violent, gang-infested parts of town.
Those cops will “flood the zone” on tiny beats that also will be circled by as many as seven squad cars.
The saturation patrols will target the 3 percent of Chicago that accounts for about 20 percent of the violence, McCarthy says.
“It’s a no-brainer to put cops on the dots … and in this case in a Chicago-centric way. Instead of just deploying officers on foot, we’ve got a double deployment with officers in cars.”
Just talking about it, gets McCarthy nostalgic about his own days walking the beat in the Bronx.
“I can still feel what it’s like to put on your uniform and go out in the cold and walk the beat, and that was 32 years ago,” he says. “I made my first arrest, a gun arrest, on West 183rd Street in the Bronx on foot patrol by myself.”
And he’s not shy about saying that’s also where he learned to twirl a nightstick on a leather strap — a skill some guys he knows have lost teeth trying to learn.
Chicago’s new foot patrol cops won’t be swinging billy clubs, but McCarthy says he expects the rookies to be excited, engaged and aggressive patrolling gang turf through the night.
He says he’s confident the saturation patrols will help drive down crime even more than the tactic did in New York — where the initiative was heralded by academic types as a tactic that works — because in Chicago gang factions and gang turf cover such small areas.
“By deploying our guys there, we’re effectively taking the turf away from [gangs],” McCarthy says.
After a week, it was obvious that the foot patrols had started disrupting gang activity in Gresham District — you might say the writing was on the wall.
“It went very, very well to the point that there was gang graffiti that says, “F--- the foot police,” McCarthy says.
In fact, foot-patrol cops — young, aggressive officers who are out there looking in hallways, making arrests — have nabbed two bad guys with guns, made contacts on the street that led to a search warrant and “seized some weed,” McCarthy says.
And that kind of old-school police work aims to complement McCarthy’s other anti-violence initiatives — targeting gang turf, violent gangbangers and their known associates; catching fugitives; busting open drug markets; and cracking down on quality-of-life violations — that he’s rolled out over the last year.
“It’s one of the 50 things that we didn’t do last year,” McCarthy says. “We’re coming up on my two-year mark. And looking back it’s been a fast and furiously changing department. The strategies we’re using now are not the same ones we used in 2011 and 2012. And that’s why we’re having success.”
Indeed, murders are down nearly 40 percent — 66 homicides compared with 108 during the same period in 2012, according to police statistics.
That’s a great start. But even an idiot knows the true test of McCarthy’s strategies will come this summer, when the real shooting begins.