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May 26, 2006
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Chicago cops in 'battle dress' to flood high-crime areas

Fran Spielman, The Chicago Sun-Times
Copyright 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Determined to prevent the traditional surge in summer violence, Mayor Daley on Wednesday ordered police "in battle dress" to use roadside safety checks, dog searches and high-tech license plate readers to establish an unprecedented weekend presence in high-crime neighborhoods.

"I don't think we've ever had anything at this level before," said Police Supt. Phil Cline.

"We've had a reduction of 80 drive-by shootings this year. But, we don't want to rest on our laurels. We still want to go after `em. We don't want to have any."

Daley said he's not willing to tolerate the summer surge in violent crime that "some people may believe is simply a fact of life."

"As far as we are concerned, it is unacceptable. Our object is to create a very visible police presence, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, to deter gang-bangers and reassure law-abiding residents that the police are out in force," he said.

The Chicago Police Department is already saturating high-crime neighborhoods with its Targeted Response Units, gang tactical teams and undercover drug missions using up-to-the-minute crime figures provided by the Deployment Operations Center.

DRUG DOGS, LICENSE PLATE READERS

But, beginning June 2 and continuing every Friday and Saturday night in June, July and August, they plan to step it up a few notches.

Officers from the Targeted Response Unit and Special Operations Section will be dressed in black battle fatigues and flak jackets. They'll be backed up by command vans and light trucks.

If that's not enough to make police presence known, "Operation Safe Summer" also has another element: roadside safety checks in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence in partnership with the Illinois State Police and Cook County Sheriff's Department.

Canine units will be used to sniff out drugs, thanks to recent court rulings that say it's OK to use dogs during traffic stops when there's probable cause.

Cline said the city has also purchased a pair of license plate readers -- one in a van, the other in a futuristic squad car -- capable of scanning the plates of up to 3,600 parked or moving vehicles an hour. Ten more license plate readers and four more "concept cars" are on the way.

DALEY SHOOTS DOWN TRAFFIC IDEA

"What this . . . will tell us is if the registered owner is wanted, if the car is wanted. We can put partial plate [numbers] in there for vehicles that were used in shootings or homicides . . . as the vehicles approach, officers conducting the roadside safety check will know, `Hey this car was used in a shooting. That's the probable cause we need to look,' '' Cline said.

"We'll have our [canine unit] dogs there that can sniff for drugs. And we can look for hidden compartments. A lot of the gang-bangers today have hidden compartments in their cars. We have officers who are experts in finding those compartments."

Despite the unprecedented police crackdown, Daley gave the cold shoulder to a proposal by Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Allen (38th) to use $10 million generated by red-light cameras to hire 100 more police officers to enforce the city's traffic laws.

Allen has been clamoring for a police crackdown for years to curb, what he calls "Wild West" driving habits. But, he was pushed to the brink by the hit-and-run death last weekend of a 4-year-old girl in Lincoln Park.

Allen also joined Vi Daley (43rd) and Tom Tunney (44th) in introducing an ordinance to increase fines for blowing stop signs in response to the accident.

Daley was equally moved by the death of Maya Hirsch. But, he argued that hiring more police officers was not the proper response.

"I cannot put police officers out at every stop sign. We cannot put 'em on every red light. It's called murder. I hope they . . . charge that individual with murder. . . . If the police officer was standing there, [they'd] hit the police officer, too," the mayor said.

Pounding the podium, Daley said, "This is unacceptable in a civilized society. There are rules. There's responsibilities to every driver not to go through a stop sign or a red light. It's as simple as that.''

Michael Roth, 57, has been charged with a single count of leaving the scene of a fatal crash. A vanity license plate that caught the eye of a witness led to his arrest.

Cline offered statistics to prove that Chicago Police are still very much involved in traffic enforcement. From January through April, Chicago Police issued 153,000 moving violations, up 8.4 percent over the same period last year.

fspielman@suntimes.com 
 

Photo: PHIL CLINE: Going High Tech

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