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Chicago's Rat War: City Beefing Up Army Of Rodent Fighters

By Alex Nitkin | April 12, 2016 7:52am | Updated on April 15, 2016 11:31am
 Residents need to do their part to keep rats at bay, Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Charles Williams (c.) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said Tuesday.
Residents need to do their part to keep rats at bay, Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Charles Williams (c.) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

CHICAGO — Chicago is declaring war on rats. 

City officials announced Tuesday morning that the city is adding 10 new crews to its Bureau of Rodent Control, bringing the total number of groups to 28.

The added troops will "ensure all rodent complaints are addressed within five days," according to a Monday evening news release.

Rat complaints are up nearly 50 percent this year — and the city is on pace to get 50,000 complaints in 2016. By comparison, there were 36,425 complaints to 311 last year.

Reporter Alex Nitkin details the city's plans to attack the rat problem.

Officials acknowledged the infestation Tuesday, blaming it on a mix of new construction and a mild winter, but said their abatement efforts are up to the task. "Rat sightings" are up 67 percent compared to last year, said Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Charles Williams, but crews' "delivery of services" have gone up 75 percent over the same period.

 Rats in Chicago
Rats in Chicago
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Flickr/John W. Iwanski

Officials also announced plans for the creation of a "rodent task force" to make sure the crews are never lacking for logistical or strategic support. The group will convene representatives of the Department of Streets and Sanitation along with agencies like the CTA, Chicago Housing Authority, Health Department and Building Department to "come up with as many ideas as we can to attack the problem and keep that rodent population down," Williams said.

The surge in rat sightings led city aldermen to address the problem with a new ordinance aimed at fighting dog poop, which Williams called the "number-one food source" attracting rats.

An ordinance passed by Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) last year, meanwhile, required that all construction sites include above-ground rat traps as long as any excavation is being done.

"Thanks to that ordinance, we're ready" for the upcoming demolition of Children's Hospital, Williams said, an action likely to draw hordes of rats from their underground burrows.

Additionally, Emanuel and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) submitted an ordinance in March calling on property owners to police their lots daily to keep them free of dog poop — or else face fines of $50-$500.

But ultimately, Smith said Tuesday, keeping rats at bay depends on residents' ability to stay vigilant, mind their garbage cans and pick up after their pets.

"Rodents are a public issue. It's not something that can just be dealt with by streets and san — everyone is part of the issue," she said. "Restaurants have obligations, people in construction sites have obligations, and we as citizens have obligations to help keep this under control."

Feral cat colonies have also become a hot commodity as home and business owners look to get rats out of their yards and patios. 

Chicago was named the "rattiest" U.S. city two years running, in 2013 and 2014, by the Orkin pest-control company.

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