Some aldermen want police strike forces back -- would they jibe with new city-hired gang prevention group?

Some aldermen want police strike forces back -- would they jibe with new city-hired gang prevention group?
Creative commons photo by Null Value

Something’s got to change, say the aldermen on the South and West sides who have watched the body counts–which are mostly comprised of young African American men–in their wards climb at alarming rates, this year.

Tired of the ostensible ineffectiveness of Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s emphasis on beat policing, those frustrated aldermen recently called for a return to the aggressive, controversial police strike forces that used to temporarily saturate high-conflict areas.

If those units were to be reformed–and for the record, both McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have said that won’t happen; they were responsible for disbanding them–the aforementioned aldermen claim that the units could co-exist with another new approach the city is taking to stop the bloodshed.

Last week, a partnership between CeaseFire Illinois and the city officially began, with the group receiving $1 million from the city to essentially send its members onto the street to de-escalate conflict before it erupts into violence–and possibly, death.

“We have professionally trained outreach specialists who are hitting the streets and working to detect an issue, and then we interrupt it … because it’s better to catch it before it’s happened,” said Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois. “You see, we have this down to a science; CeaseFire is more than just a street model. It’s about epidemiology, because this is a public health issue.”

The group has already arranged the surrender of a suspect in a drive-by shooting.

CeaseFire takes a diplomatic and scientific approach, and arguably its biggest strength is its members’ street credentials–many of them are ex-offenders or former gang members–which allow them to make inroads with gang members and at-risk individuals.

So, would this approach clash with strike forces–tainted by scandal and accusations of systemic civil rights abuses, which caused deep distrust in the communities they operated in–if the latter were to be relaunched?

“I believe they can co-exist,” said 20th Ward Ald. Willie Cochran, a former Chicago cop who has done undercover and special operations work. “My involvement with people who have criminal backgrounds was customary. They’ve served as my informants, and I know how valuable they can be.”

Cochran’s 20th Ward, located in the South Side Woodlawn neighborhood, has the highest number of murders to date, at 20.

Cochran said he supports the CeaseFire partnership. He told the Chicago Tribune this month that he wanted the strike forces back, but he was hesitant to explicitly state that again, when The Chicago Reporter asked him about it.

“The police department does not have to be unnecessarily heavy-handed. You can be effective and non-abusive,” said Cochran, about the strike forces.

In the same Tribune article, 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, whose community has seen 10 killings–one of the highest numbers, citywide–said the strike forces worked fine in his Roseland ward, on the far South Side.

Beale could not be reached to comment on whether a re-instated task force would undermine CeaseFire’s efforts.

But Austin-based 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin, whose West Side ward also faces gang and violence issues, said the two could operate without getting in the way of each other because they’re two separate groups with different functions and capabilities.

Ervin said he doesn’t “necessarily support” reforming the paramilitary style strike forces; instead, he prefers the Emanuel- and McCarthy-backed beat-officer approach that is in place.

Even Hardiman doesn’t think the strike forces would be detrimental to CeaseFire’s work–bear in mind, though, that CeaseFire just got a controversial $1 million check, so publicly challenging the mayor’s preferred policing strategy is not exactly in the advocacy group’s best interest.

“When the police get involved, then we have to back off,” Hardiman said, noting that CeaseFire cannot–nor would it–make arrests. “I don’t think it [strike force] would have an effect on what we do. We’re going to keep on working with the high-risk individuals. … We stay in our lane.”

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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