Chicago Police Get Feds' Help Fighting Soaring Homicide Rate
The new plan calls for gang, narcotics and patrol officers to saturate so-called conflict zones to combat the soaring homicide rate, which is up about 31 percent compared with a year earlier.
As Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted his anti-violence initiatives at a news conference Friday morning, bullets ripped across the 4200 block of West Wilcox Street on Chicago's West Side, striking a teenager while she walked home from school.
The shooting happened in the heart of the Harrison District, one of two police districts targeted by Chicago police officers in a year when the city has drawn national attention for its mounting homicides. Although Emanuel has credited the effort with reducing murders in those two districts, Friday's shooting underscored the difficulty police face in confronting the intractable violence in some of the city's most impoverished sections.
"We've obviously had a very difficult August, so we have our work cut out for us," said Emanuel, who announced Friday that he will now be enlisting the help of the federal government to combat violence and drugs in the Grand Crossing and Ogden police districts on the South and West sides where the city has seen the highest spike in violence this year.
The new plan, modeled after the crackdowns since mid-January in the Harrison and Englewood districts, calls for gang, narcotics and patrol officers to saturate so-called conflict zones, according to police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. U.S. marshals and agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will help target gangs, drugs and guns. While the federal assistance lasts only four months, McCarthy said the plan wasn't "a short-term solution."
"We're working on the worst of the worst ... the people who are most likely to be involved in homicide, whether they are the offender or a victim of homicide," McCarthy told reporters.
City and police officials have been scrambling to deal with a public-relations nightmare for much of 2012 because of the soaring homicide rate, up about 31 percent through Aug. 19 compared with a year earlier, according to the most recent police statistics available. The department hoped things had turned around when homicides dipped in July, the first month that happened this year, but the violence has increased again this month.
At the late-morning news conference, Emanuel and McCarthy said the crackdowns in Englewood and Harrison, two of the city's most violent districts, have reduced homicides there, so the effort will be expanded to the Grand Crossing and Ogden districts, two other hot spots for violence. So far this year, homicides have jumped 56 percent in Grand Crossing and 45 percent in Ogden, department records indicate.
Despite the anti-violence efforts since January, homicides have fallen only slightly in the Harrison District on the West Side, so residents on Wilcox Street said they were not surprised when gunfire broke out about 11 a.m. Friday, when the mayor's news conference was beginning.
Tellissa Shields, 15, was walking to her grandmother's house from Legal Prep Charter Academy High School, where she had just enrolled as a freshman, when she was struck by stray gunfire, according to her family.
Cynthia Louise Murphy said she was carrying groceries home and saw Tellissa walking in her school uniform, holding a backpack, when the shooting occurred.
"She said, 'Please help me, please, please,'" Murphy said. "She was holding her side and that is when she moved her hand and I saw blood."
Murphy said she helped Tellissa onto her porch and into a chair. A neighbor then called 911.
Tellissa was struck in the right side, according to a police source. Police are investigating whether the gunfire may have been meant for other people in retaliation for a shooting in early July that killed two people and wounded two others, including a 14-year-old boy, the source said.
Tellissa's mother, Mellissa Wesley, was driving to pick her daughter up when she learned of the shooting from her sister.
"I felt in shock," Wesley said. "I just didn't believe it." Wesley rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, where Tellissa had been taken. When she saw that her daughter was alert and seemed to be doing well, she did not pause to talk.
"I hugged her and kissed her," said Wesley, who had her daughter's name tattooed on her arm because she was her first child.
Sitting outside the hospital Friday afternoon, Wesley said Tellissa was doing well and that doctors were taking X-rays to evaluate the extent of the damage.
Back on Wilcox Street, residents sat on their porches in the midday heat discussing the shooting. Large block-club signs marred by graffiti welcomed visitors and urged that the neighborhood be kept clean and safe.
Marcus James, who grew up on the street, said he often hears gunshots in the area despite continued police presence.
"It's sad and it's tragic, but the problem is you get used to it," James said. "Those signs there, people don't pay any attention to them anymore."
(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune
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