Police Supt. Garry McCarthy made Austin residents a hefty promise Tuesday evening: “You’re going to see a change, or I’m going to die trying.”
Just over a month into his new job as Chicago’s top cop, McCarthy visited Austin’s Loretto Hospital, speaking about his crime-reduction strategies and fielding questions for more than an hour with a standing-room only crowd.
McCarthy touched on the 750 cops he’s moved from desk jobs to beats in an effort to beef up manpower on the streets; his plans to hold commanders responsible for their district’s success; and his strategy to crack down on drugs, public drinking and other “quality of life” offenses as a way to prevent more serious crime – the so-called “broken windows” theory.
He also asked for residents’ help.
“If we lock up a drug dealer who’s standing on the corner selling drug, what happens?” McCarthy asked.
“Another one takes his place,” members of the audience called back.
But if that dealer is locked up and replaced by a police officer, McCarthy said, the problem will stop – if the community is on board.
“When we take that corner back, you gotta help me,” McCarthy said, calling on residents to work with aldermen to paint over graffiti and clean up streets. “I don’t want that cop standing by himself.”
From their seats, audience members frequently nodded in agreement and responded with calls of “That’s right” as the superintendent spoke knowingly about the “three big problems” – gangs, guns and drugs.
But the nodding heads stopped when the conversation turned to another strategy that McCarthy champions: ordering police to respond more selectively to 911 calls.
“We are responding to too many calls for service … we are trying to put 20 pounds in a 10-pound bag,” he said. “We’re going to stop doing some things so we can start doing other things.”
Before long, frustrations emerged from residents who flocked to a microphone at the back of the room. They spoke about burglaries, crime-feeding liquor stores, and – most commonly – misbehaving teenagers taking over streets.
Dana Spell told McCarthy she called police at 11 p.m. one night last week to report a dozen teens “causing a ruckus” outside her home in the 5800 block of Huron Street.
The cops didn’t show for two hours, she said; by that point, more than 50 teens had congregated.
“They came, three squad cars at 1 in the morning, and no one got out (of the car),” Spell said. “You talk about public trust. You look out the window and you see all of this, and there are no cops in sight?”
Several impassioned residents urged McCarthy to arrest young people who loiter on street corners. But that suggestion drew criticism from others.
“We can’t afford to keep arresting kids for little bitty things,” said Marianne Jackson, a Cook County juvenile court judge and resident of the 15th Police District. “Please, let’s temper this broken glass theory with some good common sense.”
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), who hosted Tuesday’s event, noted this would saddle the young people with police records and prevent them from getting jobs.
McCarthy will again visit Austin on Saturday, July 30, when he, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others are scheduled to take part in a walk past “problem” liquor stores, Graham announced. The march will begin at 10 a.m. at 5575 W. Van Buren St.