McCarthy cut crime but high-profile violence doomed him

SHARE McCarthy cut crime but high-profile violence doomed him
SHARE McCarthy cut crime but high-profile violence doomed him

Chicago Police superintendents are like baseball managers and football coaches. They’re hired to be fired. Failure and crises are built into the job. When it comes, a head needs to roll. The sacrificial lamb inevitably is the man on top.

Garry McCarthy is no different. He’s a fighter who believed he earned the right to decide when the time was right to retire from the pressure-cooker job after surviving a heart attack more than a year ago.

But Emanuel didn’t give him that chance. Although the mayor is loyal to his staff, he could not resist the pressure to get rid of McCarthy following the recent release of an incendiary video showing white officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 bullets into black teenager Laquan McDonald last year.

The final straw appeared to be a front-page editorial calling for his firing in Tuesday’s Chicago Sun-Times. That followed the Washington Post and elected black officials.

Emanuel, in a news conference Tuesday, acknowledged that McCarthy’s policing strategies led to a major reduction in overall serious crime —a 7 percent drop this year through Nov. 30 compared with the same period of 2014.

But murders are up 14 percent. And McCarthy became “a distraction” after the McDonald killing, another high-profile police shooting and a gang-related assassination of a 9-year-old, Emanuel said.

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McCarthy, 56, is a former operations chief at the New York Police Department who went on to run the police department in Newark, New Jersey.

In New York, he was responsible for CompStat, a crime reduction strategy replicated in Chicago and other cities. He became police chief of Newark in 2006 and presided over a major drop in crime, but officers there were criticized for alleged civil-rights abuses.

McCarthy was hired by Emanuel shortly before the 2011 inauguration after the mayor’s first choice, former Chicago Deputy Supt. Charles Ramsey, demanded a salary in excess of $400,000.

McCarthy’s annual salary is $260,210. He was the highest paid official on the city payroll, earning​ $43,794 a year more than the $216,210 that Emanuel earns.

With his outspoken persona and fast-talking style, McCarthy was a police chief out of central casting long before there was a locally filmed television series called “Chicago P.D.”

During the 2012 NATO summit, McCarthy was hailed as a hero for leading his troops from the front and diffusing a confrontation with Black Bloc provocateurs at Cermak and Michigan. A grateful City Council passed a resolution praising his performance and jokingly calling him Chicago’s very own General Douglas MacArthur.

Earlier this year, McCarthy burnished his national reputation when he became co-chairman of a coalition of 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and chiefs pushing to reduce the U.S. incarceration rate.

But serious problems for McCarthy began percolating in April after the acquittal of Detective Dante Servin on involuntary manslaughter charges in the 2012 shooting of Rekia Boyd.

A week later, McCarthy said the veteran detective should never have been indicted because he “hit the individual who he was aiming at” and “also happened to hit” Boyd.

He made those remarks the day that riots broke out on the streets of Baltimore. The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus condemned the comments as insensitive. Emanuel was not happy at the time either. McCarthy recently moved to fire Servin.

In October, the City Council’s Black Caucus demanded McCarthy’s resignation after a weekend bloodbath and after McCarthy replaced his retiring black first deputy Al Wysinger with John Escalante, who is Hispanic. They renewed that call after the city last week released the video of 17-year-old McDonald’s fatal shooting.

Despite his forced exit, McCarthy will be remembered for his handling of the NATO summit and innovative changes in the way the department flags potential criminals through technology.

His idea was to identify gang members most likely to commit shootings and have police officials interact with them to discourage them from engaging in further violence.

Beat officers are urged to pay special attention to people on the list because they pose the greatest danger to the public and themselves. And district commanders have met with some on the list to give them “custom notifications” that they’re being watched if they step out of line but also offer them social services.

In addition to those technology-based strategies, McCarthy grappled with the department’s dwindling manpower.

When he first entered office in 2011, McCarthy carried out Emanuel’s campaign pledge of eliminating roving citywide task forces responsible for seizing guns and drugs and concentrated on putting officers on beats in districts.

Then he created “impact zones,” six-block areas with major crime problems, in 12 police districts.

Cops working in office jobs have been moved into the impact zones to bolster beat cops. Other officers have been hired on overtime to patrol violent neighborhoods.

The department says overall crime —including aggravated assaults, burglaries, robberies and thefts —is down about 38 percent since 2011.

Butthere have been 429 murders this year through Nov. 30 compared with 377 in 2014, 382 in 2013, 476 in 2012 and 400 in 2011.

The spotlight on murders only intensified on Nov. 2 with the execution of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee in a South Side alley.

Lost in the discussion of McCarthy’s legacy, though, are the statistics on police-involved shootings and citizen complaints.

Police officers shot 19 people this year through Nov. 30, but that was down from 34 in 2014 and 2013; 42 in 2012; and 54 in 2011. Citizen complaints against the police have also fallen in recent years, which McCarthy has credited to the department’s efforts to train officers to be more professional in their encounters with citizens.

Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum — a Washington think tank — said one of McCarthy’s biggest legacies is that overall crime fell during his tenure. But McCarthy was caught between two forces that were out of his control, Wexler said.

“On the one hand, you’ve got a post-Ferguson environment where the public demands transparency and openness quickly in cases of police misconduct. And on the other hand you have this old bureaucratic legal system with protocol to follow that goes at its own pace with no sense of urgency — and the two are on a collision course,” he said.

“And I think McCarthy got swept up in that dynamic,” Wexler said.

After McCarthy’s firing, acting superintendent John Escalante sent a message to officers saying he was proud to be appointed to the position “after more than 29 years of proud service.”

“Regardless of what role we each play in our department, it is a challenging time for every one of us . . . It is still our duty to serve and protect with the highest degree of professionalism, integrity, courage and excellence,” said Escalante, the former chief of detectives.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek

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