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Chicago Leads US in Murders, Officials Promise Action - 2002-01-25

In the year 2001, no city in the United States had more murders committed within its borders than the Midwest city of Chicago. 666 people were killed in that city last year, more murders than either New York or Los Angeles, which are both larger. Chicago police say they are wasting no time developing a plan they expect will cut the number of killings in the city.

Chicago is a city that likes to boast about itself, but nobody in City Hall is excited about Chicago having the nation's highest murder total. New York City has more than twice Chicago's population, but last year, Chicago had 24 more murders. Police Superintendent Terry Hillard says that is going to change this year.

He is promising tough enforcement against street gangs and drug dealers, and ordering top supervisors to spend more time on the streets. "Expect rigid enforcement. Expect visibility," he says. "We will initiate area-wide, open-warrant missions that will strictly target high-intensity offenders prone to gang and drug-related violence. We will take our fight against crime directly to the most vulnerable areas."

Chicago's 2001 murder total was far lower than the number of killings it saw ten years ago, nearly 1,000. but while the number of killings declined throughout the 1990's, it fell much faster in other big cities. Jim Kirkpatrick heads the Chicago Crime Commission, an independent organization that tracks and analyzes crime statistics.

He says the city's new "get tough on gangs" policy is a good one. "We figure a third of the murders are gang-related murders, murders that are related to gang disputes where either gang members or innocent people get killed," he says.

Under the new plan, Chicago police will use crime statistics to identify problem areas in the city. Those areas will get extra attention and manpower from the police, who will look not only for serious crimes, but also minor ones, such as traffic violations. Mr. Kirkpatrick says Chicago seems to be at least partially adopting New York City's crime-fighting belief that going after minor crimes can help prevent larger ones. "The theory behind New York's successful reduction in crime was that they held people responsible for what went on in the police districts and held district commanders responsible to doing something about the crime in those districts," he says. "We are coming around to that way of thinking, and that is really the only way to go."

Chicago police will set up mobile command posts in high-crime areas. Those posts will help monitor trouble in the neighborhood, and help lead the search for parole violators and criminal suspects being sought for arrest. Deputy Superintendent Anthony Chiesa says neighborhood superintendents will be able to decide how to best carry out their new mission. "Obviously they are going to be tailored for certain geographic areas. The same techniques you would use in one area may not be applicable in another because the criminal element operates in a different fashion," he says.

For about ten years, Chicago has had an extensive community policing program, in which neighborhood police stations would host meetings with local residents to talk about crime-related issues and ways police and residents could work together. Mr. Kirkpatrick of the Chicago Crime Commission says that effort helped reduce crime in Chicago during the 1990's, and should remain part of the city's anti-crime effort. "Community policing is a valuable and important part of what the police department does," he says. "It builds relationships you need for the long term, but it is no substitute for good, solid police work."

Chicago police say they intend to continue the community policing program. Officials say the neighborhood meetings often alert the police to crime that officers might not notice right away.