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Escalante to command staff: Find ways to stop bloodshed

Acting Chicago Police Supt. John Escalante said Tuesday he has challenged his patrol command staff to come up with strategies to stem a January bloodbath in Chicago that has left 42 people dead, five of them in the last 24 hours.

“It’s unique to Chicago. The major cities around the country that saw the same spike we did last year aren’t seeing that spike this year. So we have been working very hard to try to pinpoint what might be causing it,” Escalante said.

After a violent start to January, Chicago went 33 hours without a shooting on Sunday and Monday. Then the bloodshed began again from one end of the city to the other. It left five people dead and at least 11 others shot over a 24-hour period.

The 42 homicides and 245 shootings so far this month is a bloodier start to the year than the city has experienced the past four years.

The escalation in Chicago’s never-ending war against gang violence comes at a difficult time for Escalante.

He is auditioning to become the permanent replacement for fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

On Tuesday, Escalante left Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s annual City Hall reception for Chicago legislators and headed to a meeting with his patrol command staff to discuss new ways to stop the violence.

“I put them all kind of on notice yesterday. I told them when we meet today, I want everyone to bring with them any ideas they want to try — things that we have done in the past that we got away from or things that we haven’t done that they want to give a try,” he said.

“So everything is open right now. We really want to do what we can and haven’t ruled any strategy out in terms of trying to stem that violence . . . We’re going to go over additional ideas — some strategies we want to try going into this weekend.”

After the meeting with top brass, Escalante announced that he was moving more than 250 police officers and 25 supervisors “from foot beats into vehicles to increase visibility and augment patrols” in Chicago neighborhoods. District commanders have also been ordered to increase home visits to known gang members.

By Feb. 6, 100 sergeants now completing training will be deployed to districts to “support officers and existing deployments,” according to Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. And gang enforcement units have been “de-centralized to add more mobile and nimble investigative units to areas and districts,” the spokesman said.

Emanuel inadvertently made negative headlines last fall when he contended during a closed-door meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and 20 big-city mayors and police chiefs that police officers across the nation are becoming “fetal” because they’re afraid their videotaped encounters with the public will end up on YouTube.

Now the same term can be used to describe the defensive crouch that many Chicago Police officers have adopted in the wake of the video of white police officer Jason Van Dyke emptying 16 rounds into the body of black teenager Laquan McDonald.

January shootings and homicides are way up, an anomaly during a cold weather month. And police stops, gun confiscation and other indicators of police activity are way down.

Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo has accused Chicago politicians, including Emanuel, of attempting to “limit proactive policing” to avoid more bad headlines — even if it paves the way for more street violence.

On Tuesday, Escalante was asked whether he shares Angelo’s view that there is less pro-active policing going on in Chicago in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

“We’re always concerned about morale. We would be at any time of the year. But I don’t think their morale is causing gang members to go out and shoot each other. I don’t think the gang members follow our morale,” he said.

Pressed on whether Chicago Police officers are being as aggressive as they need to be, Escalante said, “They’re doing their best . . . Unfortunately, until we get a better handle on the gun violence and [start] getting some assistance through laws, policy and the courts, we’re going to be struggling with this issue for some time.”

After stepping up its periodic partnership with the Cook County sheriff’s office, the Chicago Police Department plans to run “joint missions” with the sheriff’s police this week.

The police department is also scheduled to do 24 so-called “gang call-ins” as part of its Violence Reduction Strategy.

“That’s bringing the gang members in, putting them on notice about stopping the violence but also giving them the opportunity to take advantage of social services that are there to provide them with some alternatives,” Escalante said.

As for the federal civil rights investigation triggered by the Laquan McDonald shooting, Escalante said he has designated Cmdr. Marc Buslik to be the “primary point of contact” with the Justice Department.

“The last time they were here physically was last week. The meetings have gone well. They have the full cooperation of the department. They’re looking at policy and practice,” Escalante said.

Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey “will also be working with us kind of on a consultant basis looking at our policy and practice. And then, we have the mayor’s task force, which is also looking at policy and practice. … At the end of the day, we expect to be a better and more professional police department.”