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Flooding the block: police in the Harrison District say area crime keeps dropping, but some residents aren't so sure.

Anthony Baumann, an eight-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, is having a slow January afternoon. As he cruises streets in the Harrison Police District on the West Side, many eyes turn to his squad car. He waves to children, who are just getting out of school, and most wave back. Baumann, a large, affable, mustached man, leans back in his seat, smiling. "When I first got here, it was like the Wild West," he says. "There's so many policemen on the street now, they're basically putting a car on every corner. I don't know why they didn't do it before."

Baumann says he and other officers have reason to be upbeat as they head into 2005. Last year, the city recorded 445 homicides, down 26 percent from 2003's tally of 600. Police Superintendent Philip Cline and others jumped on the number, pleased with the progress.

They attribute the success to new policing tactics, such as reinstituting gang intelligence units, installing high-tech security cameras and implementing the "cops on the dots" strategy, which floods high crime areas with previously desk-bound officers.

Baumann's Harrison District, which for 12 years led the city in homicides, is the testing ground for such efforts. The police department "went for the most violent district. Our distinction needed to be addressed," says district Cmdr. James B. Jackson. "There have been all types of resources and additional manpower committed to [this area]. These guys now don't have the luxury of being ignored."

Harrison recorded 25 homicides last year, down from 57 in 2003, a 56 percent drop.

But on the streets many residents aren't impressed by the new numbers, complaining that the neighborhood still seems unsafe.

Shenita Thomas, a 24-year resident of the district, says that, though the gun violence has subsided, drug dealing is still prevalent. And stereotypes and mutual distrust have strained the relationship between residents and the police force. "I've been in other neighborhoods, and the police attitude is totally different," she says.

"You see the littlest Kids, 9-and 10-year-old kids, selling drugs," says Yolanda Emerson, who lives a block and a half away from the police station at West Harrison Street and South Kedzie Avenue. She looks into the living room of her apartment, pausing on her five children, sprawled around their father watching television. "We're looking to move right now," she adds. "Some sell drugs right in front of the church. I don't want that introduced to my children."

Others say the new policing tactics are one piece of the puzzle in stemming the number of homicides. "You can't look upon crime in isolation," says Arthur J. Lurigio, a professor and chairman of the criminal justice department at Loyola University Chicago. "Homicides occur in a constellation of problems. We have to focus on social problems, and [social service] programs are being cut."

Mildred Wiley, senior director of education and special initiatives at Bethel New Life, a nonprofit social service agency, worries that job training and housing needs of ex-offenders will not be addressed in the face of budget cutbacks. That could lead to a resurgence of crime. "In the first 160 days [out of prison], if they don't find employment and housing, they revert back to the skills they learned before," she says.

John Hagedorn, gang researcher and criminal justice professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is also skeptical. "They still haven't dealt with underlying problems of institutionalized gangs and affordable housing," he says. "These gangs aren't going to disappear with fancy police tactics."

And the police attempts have had unforeseen consequences. When security cameras were installed on one block, the drug trade moved to the next one, says the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist, 4301 W. Washington St.

Hatch is also concerned that the "cops on the dots" policing will not keep down the homicide rate in the long run. "There needs to be sustained police presence in the community," he says. "That's what professional policing is in the long run, becoming part of the fabric of the community."

By most accounts, Cline's appointment as superintendent in 2003 and Mayor Richard M. Daley's renewed focus on getting rid of Chicago s embarrassing title of "murder capital" of the country has had a profound effect on districts like Harrison. Of the city's 25 police districts, 17 recorded reductions in homicides-14 of them by double-digit percentages.

But the new policing tactics have been applied more effectively in some areas than others. Of the districts that recorded more than 25 homicides in 2003, Harrison's reduction topped the chart, followed by those of two South Side districts-51 percent in Pullman and 48 percent in Deering. But the South Side's Grand Crossing and Englewood districts saw only 6 percent and 8 percent reductions, respectively, while the rates stayed flat in Chicago Lawn on the West Side and Grand Central on the Northwest Side. The numbers jumped by 10 percent in the South Side's Gresham.

Some point to this as evidence that policing alone cannot account for the reduction in homicides. Tio Hardiman, community organizer for CeaseFire, which works with local groups to reduce violence, says his organization deployed 70 outreach workers around the city last year for a program that included conflict prevention and grief counseling. Last year, he says, CeaseFire agents intervened in 110 conflicts, and the former gang members his group has hired can deal more effectively with current gang members. "The police have done their part, but they can only stop people when they cross the line," he says.

But all sides agree that the new tactics have been implemented forcefully in Harrison. To combat the unchecked drug trade, many desk officers in the district were put on the street, Commander Jackson says. In addition, gang intelligence was vastly improved, and sensitive crime information was shared more efficiently. Plus, 27 of the city's 30 security cameras were installed in the district.

Ald. Ed Smith, whose 28th Ward includes much of the Harrison District, has no complaints about the police. "Their support has been generous," he says.

On this brisk January afternoon, Officer Baumann's primary assignment is to monitor a sting operation, in which drug dealers are scooped up by a police wagon and replaced with undercover officers.

Then, over the radio, Baumann hears about a "lookout" man who is telling people that cops are in the area, that the sting is in place. He gets a description-red jacket, red hat-and recognizes the man down the block. He steps on the accelerator, rocketing toward the curiously nonchalant man. He stops and leaps out of the car.

But, before Baumann has a chance to apprehend him, an unmarked police car arrives from the opposite direction. Two plainclothes officers get out of their vehicle, yelling at the man, "You want to tell people we're the police?" Grabbing the bottle of malt liquor from the man's hand, they pour its contents onto the street and arrest him for consuming alcohol in public.

This is what some officers say has become a typical mid-afternoon in the Harrison District, a day with far less serious crimes than eight years ago when Baumann joined the force.

Yet having this many officers on the street isn't enough to win the public's trust, Baumann notes. "Some kids grow up fearing the police, and, you know, hating us," he says. So he tries to live by advice that his father, a retired police officer, gave him: "Just treat everyone with respect."

Baumann drives past West Wilcox Street and points out a bucolic, wide-windowed townhouse. He says a known drug dealer resides there. Across the street, a bundled woman stands on the stoop of a townhouse where at one time "drugs were sold right off the front porch." Baumann makes polite small talk with the woman and drives away.
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Author:Brett, Max
Publication:The Chicago Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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