Top Chicago cop defends station shutdown plan
Combined 12th and 13th District would have most cops in city
10/26/2011 10:00 PM
As Garry McCarthy took to the stage Tuesday night, it was clear he didn’t have many friends. The packed house of Chicagoans mostly from West Town were rowdy, and they were angry with the police superintendent’s plan to shut down their local police station.
So when he walked up to the podium at the packed meeting hall of the Ukrainian Cultural Center, 2247 W. Chicago Ave., it was with remarkable aplomb that McCarthy began to explain the most controversial decision of his still-young career in Chicago: the closing of three police stations.
The crowd of close to 200 people buzzed and sometimes shouted over McCarthy and the group of aldermen at the front of the room, waving signs in the air defending their 13th District police station. “Public safety = priceless,” one read. “13 is our lucky number,” said another.
But McCarthy took it in stride.
“I’m actually pleased to be here, believe it or not,” McCarthy said. “We have to talk, and I want to listen.”
Speaking to the crowd as aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st), Bob Fioretti (2nd), Walter Burnett (27th), Jason Ervin (28th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and a slew of police officials looked on, McCarthy explained his logic. Beyond freeing up about 20 new officers from desk duty to patrol the streets, he said, there are several reasons the change makes sense.
“Would I do it if there was no budget impact? The answer is yes,” McCarthy told the crowd. “I am responsible for public safety, so every one of these critical, key decisions I agonize over. Everything we do is focused on the delivery of services.”
The 25 police districts across the city vary wildly in size for no good reason, he said, from just 3 square miles to 31.5. Merging the 13th District into the 12th District would turn two of the city’s smaller districts into one in the middle of the pack.
The new 12th District would be the eighth-largest out of 22 in the city, he said. The 12th and 13th districts rank relatively low in terms of crime — 23rd and 22nd, respectively, in the number of crimes reported. When combined, they would create a district where the number of crimes reported would rank ninth among all districts — on par with its size.
But McCarthy emphasized that the new district would have the most police officers of any one district in the city — and he said he was planning to keep it that way.
“My commitment is that those cops stay in place,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re consolidating resources, we’re taking cops out of administrative positions and putting them on the street. We’re creating a mid-level district in terms of geography and reported crime. It’s not like the crime rate goes up, we’re just taking the numbers and putting them together. And you become the number one district in terms of the number of police officers. This works.”
But the crowd didn’t buy it. As McCarthy threw out crime statistics, they cried foul — asking to see the numbers online, and howling at his suggestion that “a building doesn’t stop crime, officers do. … Our response time doesn’t have anything to do with where the station is.”
After McCarthy left the meeting, his first deputy superintendent, Al Wysinger, maintained that response time would be similar to the current station, since most police calls aren’t dispatched from the station, but to police officers in squad cars, patrolling their beats on the streets.
“Everybody has a Motorola radio,” Wysinger said.
McCarthy’s pledge to keep the same officers in the same beats was welcome news to the 13th District’s commander, Frank Gross. Information has been trickling out to him bit by bit, and he said he learned a few things Tuesday night as well.
“My officers are concerned they’re going to be sent all over. Everyone’s concerned about change,” Gross said. “But I believe what my superintendent and bosses say.”
McCarthy’s pledge to maintain the current police staffing levels in the two districts was promising, Gross said.
“Just because we move the building doesn’t mean we’re going to change the product,” Gross said. “The idea of beat integrity is important. I want people to be around. If I have Officer Romero, and he knows the corner of Division and California, he should be there.”