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Bring in Sheriff's Police To Stop Murders in Austin, County Official Says

By Linze Rice | April 16, 2015 5:37am
 Cook County Board Commissioner Richard R. Boykin wrote a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday suggesting the Cook County Sheriff's Office should help police the Austin neighborhood after a spike in homicides.
Cook County Board Commissioner Richard R. Boykin wrote a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday suggesting the Cook County Sheriff's Office should help police the Austin neighborhood after a spike in homicides.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee, Cook County Commissioner website

CHICAGO — Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin is calling in the sheriff. 

Specifically, Boykin wants the Cook County Sheriff's Office to place officers within city limits — particularly in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side — to help Chicago police patrol the area.

In a letter sent to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office this week, Boykin said he was "profoundly troubled" by an increase in violent crime, specifically homicides, that's plagued Austin "for far too long."

Generally, sheriff's police only patrol in areas of the county that are unincorporated or have departments that are too small or lack the resources to patrol their towns themselves. Because Chicago falls within Cook County, the sheriff's office technically already has the authority to place deputies within city limits, but deputies generally do not do regular patrols.

Boykin, who is the commissioner of the 1st District, which includes Austin, said the concept of county officers policing in Austin was "not radical," and pointed to examples where sheriff's officers already patrol the streets in suburban Harvey and Markham.

Calling the city the "laughingstock of the world," Boykin pointed to a "disturbing" article by the Austin Weekly News about a sharp uptick in the area's homicide rate as what led him to call for the increased police presence. There have been eight murders in Austin so far this year, compared with five in the same time period last year.

"The election is over, it's time to govern," Boykin told DNAinfo Chicago on Tuesday.

In a statement, Chicago Police spokesman Martin Maloney said the city has more officers per capita than any major U.S. city, "and our work to continue reducing crime is about more than just the number of officers alone."

"Over the past four years we have made community policing and fostering stronger relationships with residents the foundation of our policing strategy, we have put more officers in high crime areas, and the city has significantly increased its investments in prevention programming," Maloney said.

"Ultimately, what’s needed are better state and federal laws to keep illegal guns off our streets and out of the hands of dangerous criminals."

In his letter to Emanuel, Boykin said he believed it was clear that the Austin neighborhood, as well as other West Side communities like East and West Garfield Park and Lawndale, were underserved by police.

The short-term solution, Boykin said, was to have county police officers help Chicago police patrol the area.

If he doesn't have Emanuel's backing, Boykin said he would be willing to introduce an ordinance before the County Board to have sheriff's police patrol in Austin. 

“I am willing to do it, but I’d like to work with the mayor, I’d like to work with Supt. [Garry] McCarthy,” Boykin said.

Asked if he'd be open to work up other solutions with the mayor's office, Boykin said he believed crime would skyrocket when the weather warms.

“I don’t want to wait until that point,” he said. “We’re at crisis point in the black community. Somebody has to stand up and say, ‘Hey, equal protection under the law for everybody.’”

Boykin also said an inadequate job market and lack of opportunities for neighborhood residents and children could lead some to succumb to "the devil's idle hands."

He said the long-term solution to a sustained reduction in violence must come from a partnership with the mayor's office — not only to configure a strategic policing plan, but also to give life to a jobs program.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Abdon Pallasch said sheriff's police and Chicago police already work together.

"We already do drug enforcement operations on the West Side, and we'll continue to do that," Pallasch said.

Boykin acknowledged the two departments already work together to arrest people wanted on warrants.

"All we're asking [the sheriff's office] to do is expand that a little bit further," Boykin said. "Not just warrants, but actual policing."

In addition to the goals of a decrease in crime and more jobs, Boykin said the move was needed because violence had come to define the neighborhood's reputation. He said he feared projects like film director Spike Lee's planned film, "Chiraq," only serve to instill fear in people and drive business away from the area, when peaceful solutions are possible. 

“We’re considered a 'Chiraq,' if you will,” he said. “People think more people [are] being gunned down in Chicago and shot in Chicago than in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

He said he had yet to receive a response from the mayor's office. In the meantime, Boykin said he would continue to have talks with the sheriff's office and was prepared to put his plan into action. 

Boykin said he planned to invite Emanuel and Chicago Police Department representatives to a town hall meeting in Austin on May 2, once details for the event were fully fleshed out.

“You have to do something, you have to ring the bell, you have to say, ‘Wait a minute people, there’s a crisis here,'” Boykin said. “This is important. It’s a matter of whether or not you care about African-Americans.”

The mayor's office did not return calls seeking comment.

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