04/27/2010

Chicago police hesitant about having Nat'l Guard fight crime

Police Superintendent Jody Weis said training is different for members of the military and civilian law enforcement officials

Associated Press

CHICAGO — While two Illinois lawmakers want National Guard troops deployed to help quell violence on Chicago's streets, Mayor Richard Daley and the city's police superintendent aren't embracing the idea and crime statistics show the number of homicides is no worse than in previous years.

Daley and Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis said Monday that getting guns off the streets was the way to end violence, and they renewed their call for tougher gun legislation.

"Everybody knows there's frustration when one crime is one too many in any community," Daley told reporters.

But he was tepid about calling in the National Guard, calling it only "something to think about."

The call by the lawmakers for the military to help Chicago police comes during the approach of summer, when the number of crimes often rises along with the temperature. It also follows a recent headline-grabbing night of violence when seven people were killed and more than a dozen others were injured in shootings.

"I want our city to be free of crime as much as possible and that's what I'm shooting for," said Rep. LaShawn Ford, who joined Rep. John Fritchey in making a public plea over the weekend for Gov. Pat Quinn to call out the troops.

Quinn made clear on Monday that he would defer to Daley and not take action unless Daley and Weis wanted it.

"Anytime you do something serious like this you must have absolute cooperation and coordination," Quinn said. "You just can't just willy-nilly do this."

Weis also has resisted the idea, saying training is different for members of the military and civilian law enforcement officials.

Bringing in help for Chicago police isn't a new idea. Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich once suggested turning to the Illinois State Police, but the idea went nowhere when Daley rejected it.

Chicago police have rolled out their plans to stem violence this summer, including using gang intelligence and a mobile unit of officers that can saturate an area when there's trouble. Weis said the areas most affected by violent crime account for about 9 percent of the city.

The number of Chicago homicides this year is in line with recent years. The city has had 113 so far in 2010, compared with 109 between January and April in 2009 and 134 for the same period in 2008. The city had a total of 458 homicides in 2009, down from 512 the year before.

"Our current total is consistent with the average from the last five years and the last five years have been the lowest 5-year total since the city began keeping this statistic," Chicago police spokesman Roderick Drew said.

In New York, there have been 143 homicides since the start of the year compared with 119 in the same period last year, when there was a total of 471 homicides.

Los Angeles has had 90 homicides since the start of the year. Last year, the city recorded 315 homicides, compared with 385 in 2008.

Bringing in the National Guard could make Chicago look bad and might discourage tourists from visiting, said Mike Conklin, a former journalist who teaches communications and Chicago history at DePaul University.

"People have this vision of brigades of soldiers marching up the streets," he said.

But Conklin said National Guard troops could be used in creative ways to help police by monitoring schools and Chicago park district facilities where trouble could start.

The guard's intelligence units also could be of use to the city, as well as aerial equipment like helicopters, Quinn said.

Daley said a long-term solution is needed to eradicate the violence in Chicago's neighborhoods.

"People have to get involved in their community family by family and block by block," he said. "Like anything else that is the key."

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