THE WATCHDOGS: The most violent police beat in Chicago
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John Hosey Jr. was driving in Homan Square on Chicago’s West Side on Aug. 8 when he was shot and killed.
Officers nearby heard the gunshots, at least five of them, coming from the area of Grenshaw and Central Park. They found Hosey unresponsive in a vacant lot in the 3500 block of West Grenshaw, about a half mile west of where he’d been shot. He’d been driving, and his car continued on for about 400 feet before crashing.
The 28-year-old Hosey was a member of the Traveling Vice Lord street gang, authorities say, with more than a dozen drug-related arrests. He was one of 780 people murdered in Chicago last year, which made it the most violent year the city has seen since the mid-1990s.
But nowhere did the violence hit home the way it did in the Chicago Police Department’s Beat No. 1133, where Hosey, whose death remains unsolved, was killed.
Sixteen murders. Forty-five nonfatal shootings that left 55 people wounded. Three cops shot and wounded. And three people killed by the police.
That added up to more instances of gun violence in Beat 1133 in 2016 than in any other of the 303 beats the police department divides the city into, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of police data has found.
The runners-up: Beat 1533 in Austin, with 12 murders and 44 nonfatal shootings; and Beat 1522, west of there and also in Austin, with 11 murders and 43 nonfatal shootings.
The area encompasses about one-half-square mile. It’s bounded by Jackson Boulevard, Roosevelt Road, Homan Avenue and Springfield Avenue.
Community leaders have been working to help make this a safer area. Still, the violence was far worse in 2016 than in previous years, the analysis shows. In fact, the 16 murders last year were more than Beat 1133 had seen in the previous five years combined.
Since 2000, the beat had not seen more than eight murders in a year, police records show.
So far, three of last year’s killings have resulted in arrests.
The 45 nonfatal shootings were, by far, the most in a single year since 2000 — and more than twice as many as in 2015.
Arrests have been made in four cases, according to police records.
The police — now feeling pressure not only from the community and City Hall but also the White House, with President Donald Trump using Chicago as an example last week of the “carnage” on the nation’s streets — say they are expanding their use of ShotSpotter technology, which alerts the department to shootings, to the West Side 11th District that includes Beat 1133.
The department would not make the district commander, Kenneth Johnson, available for an interview.
But police spokesman Frank Giancamilli said, “CPD is in the process of investing in expanding ShotSpotter technology throughout the 11th District for full-district coverage to help . . . respond to shooting incidents faster.”
Giancamilli also said the department is “adding additional 27 ‘pod’ cameras in targeted areas to enhance the resources available in solving cases.”
He called the rise in violence the city has been seeing and which has continued this year “unquestionably unacceptable” and blamed it in part on the easy availability of illegal guns.
“This rise in violence, including that in the 11th District, is a direct result of the vast number of illegal firearms in circulation in Chicago and lack of accountability for gun offenders who carry them to inflict harm in our communities,” Giancamilli said.
Citywide last year, the department confiscated more than 8,300 illegal guns.
The Sun-Times analysis found that, as the number of shootings and killings went up, the number of arrests for crimes related to heroin — long a scourge on the West Side — took a nosedive in 2016, according to police records. Beat 1133 saw 125 arrests last year for heroin-related offenses, mostly for possession. The previous year, it had 291, with 329 arrests in 2014.
Giancamilli said the drop in heroin arrests is a result of police steering drug users toward treatment, rather than arresting them. About 30 people so far have agreed to enter treatment.
“We have begun implementing programs to divert low-risk, nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs instead of arrest and incarceration, allowing our officers to help focus our enforcement efforts and limited criminal justice resources on those with the greatest propensity to commit violence in our communities,” Giancamilli said.
In recent years, the Eisenhower Expressway, which runs through Beat 1133, has become known as “The Heroin Highway” because of how accessible it makes the drug to both city and suburban customers.
In 2015, state or federal drug charges were brought against 42 people for their alleged roles in supplying and distributing heroin around West Grenshaw and Independence. Investigators included a photo in a federal criminal complaint that depicts a line of people waiting to get their hands on heroin in the 3700 block of West Grenshaw.
The drop in arrests for heroin hasn’t been limited to 1133. In each police beat surrounding Beat 1133, heroin arrests also were down, records show — anywhere from 15 percent to 70 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year.
The Sun-Times reported last month that overall arrests across the city were down 28 percent in 2016 compared to the year before.
Ald. Michael Scott’s 24th Ward covers most of Beat 1133. Scott said that, while the heroin trade drives some of the violence in the area, a lack of community resources — such as job-training programs — also plays a role.
“The resources that would ordinarily be in any other community are not here in the 24th Ward,” Scott said. “The young men and women would much rather have job training to provide for their families. I’m sure they’d rather pick up a trade than pick up a gun.”
Bringing in a new commercial development to the intersection of Roosevelt and Kostner — not far from Homan Square — is part of Scott’s plan to boost economic activity in the area and, he hopes, help to curb the violence.
“I’ve been a resident here all my life, and I’ve never been afforded the opportunity to walk up and down the street, around restaurants and small businesses where the community feels whole,” Scott said. “That’s what we’re working towards in my administration.”
Scott said the police department also needs to overcome the strong sense of distrust many feel toward cops. Even before the Justice Department came out earlier this month with a report criticizing police practices, Scott and others have said officers appeared to be more hesitant to make arrests because of heightened scrutiny since the release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video.
“We have, I think, still a lot of animosity that has been built up against the police, and there’s a long way to go to repair that trust,” Scott said.
In November, the police fatally shot 37-year-old Cleotha Mitchell at Harrison and Central Park after officers said they saw him shoot two other people, killing one of them.
Seven months before that, police shot and killed 16-year-old Pierre Loury. The teenager’s family has filed a federal lawsuit over his death, saying he was in a car that was pulled over by officers in the 3400 block of West Grenshaw, got out and ran and was shot by a pursuing officer as he began to climb a fence to get away.
Speaking after the release of the Justice Department report, Loury’s great-aunt, Arewa Karen Winters, said the family wanted video of the shooting released but that it was withheld because Loury was a minor.
“You couldn’t see what happened, but there was some suspicious things that we saw with our own eyes and we wanted the community to see what we saw,” Winters said. “We want to know why in a matter of 10 minutes there were over 100 white officers in that alley where the scene happened.”
The city’s Independent Police Review says records related to Loury’s shooting are being withheld because of his age and would be released only by court order.
On March 14, three police officers were shot during a drug investigation in the 3700 block of West Polk. Officers shot and killed the man, 29-year-old Lamar Harris, identified as a member of the Traveling Vice Lords from Forest Park with seven felony convictions and 43 arrests on his record.
Last year, the private, not-for-profit UCAN, formerly the Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network, built and moved into the sprawling Nichols Center at 3605 W. Fillmore — in the heart of Beat 1133 — in an effort to help fight the violence and improve the community. The 148-year-old organization offers counseling, mentoring, violence intervention and other services, primarily to those 12 to 24 years old. The organization, which relies on grants and donations, says it’s now working with 110 local residents.
Most of those getting mentoring are brought in through community outreach, according to Norman Livingston Kerr, a UCAN official in violence prevention services. Kerr said about 90 percent of those his organization works with have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of exposure to violence.
“It plays a role because they really don’t know that they’re experiencing PTSD,” Kerr said. “They know something has happened — but they don’t know how it affects them.
“It’s not something you have to live with forever,” he said. “Our vision is youth who’ve suffered trauma can become our future leaders. We strongly believe that it can be addressed, and it can be turned around.”