CHICAGO — Those most at-risk of being involved in a shooting in Austin can expect a personal visit from the 15th district police commander sometime soon.
Police launched a pilot program Friday in Austin that will deliver customized messages to those deemed most likely to be shooters or shooting victims.
McCarthy said police have developed a "heat list" of those most likely to be involved in violent crime. That list includes a network of about 16,000 people across the city, 400 of which are directly associated with a homicide victim through gang affiliations or arrest records.
"In this superheated group, you're an offender one day and a victim the next," McCarthy told reporters Friday.
McCarthy said custom notifications will put high-risk individuals "on notice" that law enforcement will pursue the stiffest penalties possible if they choose to commit violent crimes. The personalized messages will also offer social services that police say will offer a path out of a life of crime.
"A lot of these people are scared," McCarthy said. "They're in a lifestyle that they can't get out of, and you don't know if one of those individuals is going to look at us and say, 'You know what, I want to get out of here. Can you help me do that?'"
McCarthy says the new method is a natural extension of a program that began under former Superintendent Jody Weis and will be another tool in the department's "toolbox" aimed at preventing shootings.
The department already conducts "call-ins" where police meet with gang members and warn them the entire gang will be targeted if one or more of its members decide to commit a violent crime. McCarthy said a "very clear dip in violent crime" typically follows these "call-in" sessions and is hoping the custom notifications have a similar effect.
Under the pilot program, 15th District Police Commander Barbara West was going to start delivering the customized messages in Austin beginning Friday afternoon.
West said a community leader will accompany her as she delivers the letters in the hopes that hearing the message from someone other than a police officer may have a more powerful impact.
The Austin neighborhood has seen 17 homicides so far this year, making it one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, according to DNAinfo.com Chicago data.
West said she is targeting 20 to 25 people in the entire Austin neighborhood that have made the "heat list."
"Much of our city's violence is actually perpetuated by a small number of individuals," West said Friday.
West said she has conversations with "people on the corner" all the time about changing their violent lifestyle, but the commander said hand-delivering physical notifications will formalize those conversations.
And McCarthy said he may personally accompany West before expanding the program to other neighborhoods across the city.
McCarthy said the new program is another way to reduce shootings and, by extension, murders in Chicago.
"You never know who's going to listen," McCarthy said. "Some of them may, some of them may not, but at the end of the day, we're trying."