People call or email our anti-corruption watchdog organization almost hourly with complaints about public officials and the agencies they run, and many revolve around cops and crime in the Chicago area, where most of our Better Government Association investigations originate.
But friends in Shore’s readership area also reach out periodically, and even though issues in the beach communities of Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan are more mundane than the open gang warfare that claims so many innocent lives in some Chicago neighborhoods, they’re no less important to the participants.
For instance, a friend in Ogden Dunes is concerned about the failure of police there to adequately notify all of the community’s residents about recent home break-ins.
The tipster says the community’s system for sharing crime data requires residents to log into a database, which ill-serves older residents who don’t have or use computers regularly.
Officials in Ogden Dunes tell me residents can also sign up for e-alerts and watch the community’s monthly meetings on cable, but my tipster points out that e-alerts also require digital literacy and the public meetings gloss over crime issues.
More on that later…..
But fast forward to a morning in late February after Chicago got socked with a big snowstorm. Here’s what “The Onion” headline writers came up with in their satiric newspaper:
“Snowstorm in Chicago Delays Hundreds Of Morning Murders.”
Just what you’d expect from the Onion when the number of gang-related murders reaches epidemic proportions and becomes international news when they claim innocent victims with brilliant futures.
The text of the Onion story includes a police department “apology” for any would-be murderers inconvenienced by the snowstorm, assuring them that snow removal efforts will permit them “to resume slayings by the early afternoon.”
Cold? Sure. But, like any successful Onion parody, or “Saturday Night Live” skit, it touches a painful nerve.
As did something that occurred a few days earlier while I was warming up in the vestibule of a North Side restaurant.
Twenty or so nicely dressed men sat at a table inside, and I knew they were cops when I noticed “M” cars with municipal license plates parked outside.
Several of them looked my way, recognized me from my TV days, probably realized I was now a civic watchdog, and got nervous.
Cops gathering for lunch is no big deal, but they freaked—talked among themselves—then got up and walked out, nodding sheepishly as they passed by.
Afraid I had a camera and would bust them? Talk about a role reversal.
But no surprise—that’s what’s happening in Chicago.
Over the last decade police morale has plummeted for a variety of reasons: Tough contract negotiations, decreasing manpower and, most importantly, a feeling that City Hall and the police brass don’t have the backs of the street cops.
The high-visibility prosecution of abusive or overly aggressive cops has left many rank-and-file officers hesitant to do their jobs proactively.
They decided that tough law enforcement wasn’t worth it and reverted to what I’ll call a “Dunkin’ Donuts Mentality,” which means: Do your job but don’t take any chances. Drive around and answer calls but don’t try to guess where crimes might be occurring and don’t try to prevent them.
Call it the bureaucratic approach to law enforcement.
We’ve come to accept that from the pencil pushers, but the stakes are higher in police work.
When gangbangers and drug dealers aren’t aggressively pursued, and guns don’t get taken off the street, the murder rate skyrockets.
Cop friends high and low in the pecking order confirm this scenario.
By comparison, New York City has attacked its crime problem more effectively, and the stats prove it, especially the precipitous drop in homicides.
A friend who had a big job in Illinois state government and now runs a consulting firm in NYC says the answer is simple: The Big Apple, under police chief Raymond Kelly, lets cops “stop and frisk” individuals who fit the profile of gangbangers and drug dealers.
That raises troubling profiling and civil liberty issues that are now being sorted out in federal court, but it’s emboldened the NYPD and apparently cut the crime rate dramatically.
Chicago hasn’t tried “stop and frisk” but city officials desperate for something to stop the bleeding could consider it.
It may be un-democratic, like pieces of the Patriot Act, but the threat inner-city thugs pose to safe streets and civilized neighborhoods is more real than the menace of Bin Laden’s followers.
…..Meanwhile, back in Ogden Dunes, which is Mayberry compared to Chicago, why not simply keep up-to-date lists of crimes and the status of follow-up investigations in the municipal office for residents who prefer paper to digital communication?
There you have it: Case closed.
Now it’s back to the mean streets of Chicago, where it may be time for a probable cause-based stop-and-frisk policy.
There you might have it.