CPD calls on the Feds

By Aviva Einhorn

Chicago’s battle against high crime rates and gang violence is entering yet another phase by adopting plans to bring in forces from the feds to try to win the war.

Chicago’s Violence Reduction Initiative, an effort launched last month to deploy more police units into the Englewood and East Garfield Park communities, is taking the strategy to the next level by recruiting assistance from federal law enforcement.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Feb. 10 that the Chicago Police Department will be partnering with U.S. law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service, in order to strengthen investigations improve gang intelligence and narcotics missions.

Leo Schmitz, police commander of the 7th District, said support from federal law enforcement will allow for more effective and specialized work from the CPD.

According to Schmitz, this is not the first time that the CPD has partnered with federal agencies, but it is the first operation of its kind to target such a specific demographic. The DEA will work side by side with the CPD’s Bureau of Organized Crime to try to stop the large amount of drug trading in the 7th District.

In 2011, the combined 7th and 11th districts accounted for approximately 25 percent of murders and shootings citywide, as reported by The Chronicle on Feb. 6.

“It’s going to be surgical,” Schmitz said of the initiative. “We want to stop the crime in these specific spots, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do.”

The Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Illinois Department of Corrections will also be teaming up with the CPD to tackle the troubled districts, according to a written statement from the mayor’s office. The agencies will conduct investigations of suspected individuals for proof of source of income and to crack down on surveillance of gun purchases.

“For obvious reasons, we can’t expand on specific operations,” Schmitz said. “We have to be vague in our explanations to the public because if we advertise our tactics, it will work against us.”

Residents in Englewood (the 7th District) believe the initiative and its supplemental federal support may be able to decrease crime rates, but some worry that the added forces could mean more petty arrests and unjust searches of the wrong people.

Derrick Jackson, 54, said he sees trouble daily as he washes cars at the corner of Halsted Street and Garfield Boulevard, a notorious intersection that marks the dividing line between two Englewood gangs.

“[Police] presence is well needed here [and] people would feel a lot safer with the feds around,” Jackson said. “It’s terrible here. You could just be walking down the street minding your own business and you’ll get harassed.”

According to him, older residents are the most vulnerable because of their diminished agility. He said they need protection from kids who should be in school but instead are out gang banging and burglarizing the community. Jackson said he thinks there should be more enforced penalties for parents who don’t make sure that their children attend school.

“I think they should round all these guys up, take pictures of them and then lock them up,” Jackson said. “A kid asked me for a dollar and I told him I’d give him five if he’d go to school. If [law enforcement] don’t get them off the streets, somebody else is going to take them off the streets the wrong way.”

Sandy Hall, 32, moved to Englewood eight years ago and said he is worried about what the federal presence might mean for him and his family.

“This is our home,” Hall said. “I don’t like the violence, but I don’t like the idea of the Feds coming in and harassing us even more. The police here already harass us.”

According to Schmitz, time will tell if this unique approach to Chicago violence will help resurrect the city’s downtrodden communities and secure a safer life for their inhabitants.