NEAR NORTH SIDE — The smell at the Carling Hotel was overwhelming.
The musty odor of death matched the mustard-colored walls outside room 214, where Paul Dillon, 48, died a week earlier, unbeknown to other residents.
Chicago Police detectives were called to the scene to investigate, as they are in every suspicious or unexplained death. Brian Lutzow, a 13-year veteran detective, and Brian Daly, newly minted in February, catch the case. But tonight, unlike so many others, they’re lucky. It doesn’t appear foul play was involved, and they won’t investigate any further.
But it’s been an eventful month for Daly.
In his first week on the job, Daly and other Area Central detectives solved the murder of Kevin Jemison, 28, who told friends he knew he would be killed hours before gunshots claimed his life in Grand Boulevard. The investigation by seven detectives led to two men being charged with first-degree murder.
Following a bloody year in which Chicago made national headlines as it chalked up more than 500 homicides, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to make the streets safer. Hiring 70 new detectives like Daly — increasing the total number on the streets to 924 — is part of the response.
The new class of detectives — the department’s first hires in five years — is ready to contribute.
“We’re very eager,” Daly said. “Out of my first four days, three were overtime.”
Solving crimes like Jemison’s murder is the sort of thing that made him want to be a detective in the first place, Daly said.
And the impact of that raring-to-go mentality isn’t lost on Lutzow.
The five years since the department hired new detectives "was a little long — it was less guys. You had more cases, but you still did the work,” he said. “No supervisor is going to say, ‘That case doesn’t matter.’ Of course you get a little tired, but you do the work.”
Last year, that work involved 506 homicides, a 16 percent spike over 2011.
That same year, officers responded to 2,460 incidents where at least one person was shot, a 10 percent rise from the previous year.
During a time when the department's murder clearance rate sat at 25 percent, the lowest in more than 20 years, Chicago’s violence drew unwanted attention from national media and even President Barack Obama.
However, in February, murder rates were cut in half compared to the period one year before. McCarthy has credited departmental “deployment” and “overtime,” among other factors.
The decades of experience that come with the new detectives helps, too: Daly had 13 years as a patrolman under his belt before he began training as a detective on Christmas Eve.
“So it isn’t like you’re cracking an egg and a chick comes out,” Lutzow said of the freshman detectives.
While on patrol during a slow Friday night, Daly is ready to get to work.
“For the guys who’ve been working hard for years, this is relaxing,” he said. “But I’m itching.”
He appears slightly anxious in the passenger’s seat. He doesn’t want any shootings, but he wants to be out catching shooters — it’s “a delicate balance,” he said.
The death of Dillon, the hotel resident, wasn’t suspicious, so the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office will complete the investigation.
But other nights involve shootings, even murders, that will be assigned to one of the more than 30 new detectives sent to Area Central in early February.
“Homicides never go away,” Lutzow said on a drive through Canaryville, a neighborhood in his division. “Even when a detective retires, someone else gets it.”
He estimates his list of unsolved murders to be around a dozen, while Daly, at slightly more than a month on the job, has none.
Both officers agree that despite a five-year gap in the hiring of new detectives, the job is essentially the same with a few important differences.
They talk about the difficulties involved in culling the mass of information needed to solve a case: the admittedly necessary burden-of-proof required from the Cook County State’s Attorney; a 44-hour investigative stint Lutzow once pulled in an attempt to solve a case; the time it takes for the overburdened Illinois State Police forensics lab to return evidentiary results; the endless reality of burglaries, robberies and shootings that can back up murder cases due to the sheer overwhelming amount of evidence that needs to be processed.
And, of course, the infamous “no-snitch code” among city residents.
“I don’t want to begrudge the public, but I think people are less helpful nowadays,” Lutzow said. “You can be at a [crime] scene hearing people saying not to talk.
“The shooters, we say they spray and pray,” he said of the seemingly random violence. “But once the criminals know people will speak up, they’ll be less brazen.”
This is all firsthand experience. The Chicago native and father of three has been shot at twice on the job.
“My kids understood when they got to a certain age that there’s always that chance dad might not come home,” he said. “I don’t want to sound corny, but you do it because you wanna make a difference, you wanna help. You’ve really gotta want to do this job.”