[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
GWEN IFILL: Now, the all-out fight against crime in Chicago. Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW has that story.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: Each evening, Chicago police send out 160 officers to two of the highest crime areas of the city. The locations vary from week to week depending upon the crime statistics. These targeted response units are said to be one of the reasons for Chicago’s dramatic drop in its murder rate last year-25 percent citywide — over 50 percent in two of its most dangerous neighborhoods. Just two years ago, Chicago with 600 killings was dubbed “murder capital of the United States.” Now it can point to the most dramatic murder reduction in the country.
COMMANDER STEVE CALURIS: What we’re focusing on here is a problem between two street gangs…
ELIZABETH BRACKET: Commander Steve Caluris heads the Deployment Operations Center — the brain trust of the police department; it’s where the decisions are made on where to send the targeted response units.
COMMANDER STEVE CALURIS: Different calls for service — like shots fired or gang disturbances — we take all that in and then we formulate recommendations for deployment to address the problems before the violence occurs.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: One of the other high-tech devices that has helped Chicago police reduce the crime rate is the placement of cameras on the top of light poles in neighborhoods where there is a large amount of known narcotic, gang and firearm related violence. Sgt. Greg Hoffman – who is one of those in charge of the camera control room – says the cameras can even detect the sound of gunfire.
SGT. GREG HOFFMAN, Chicago Police: What happens is a visual and audible alert is sent to the crime detections specialists (siren) – What happens is the camera will turn in the direction of the gunshot report and zoom in on that location.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: Cameras have been particularly useful in detecting drug sales. SGT. GREG HOFFMAN: I was able to provide information to the responding gang team of a description of the sellers, the buyers, the location where they’re keeping their narcotics and they were able to take three offenders into custody and recover a large amount of heroin.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: James Jackson, commander of one of the highest crime areas on Chicago’s west side, is a big supporter of the cameras.
COMMANDER JAMES JACKSON, Chicago Police Department: When we have a location where the drug dealers are out and it’s a high volume of calls and activity with drugs and gang violence — when you put the camera up, everybody’s aware it’s there and it moves the operations to another location.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: But why does that help?
COMMANDER JAMES JACKSON: We readjust our resources to target these guys when they do move, so you don’t see the dope dealers out here, you don’t see the gangs out here.
SPOKESMAN: 84661 is a Greenfield sawed-off –
ELIZABETH BRACKET: The Chicago police are also attacking violence by cracking down on gun trafficking. Last year, cops seized over 10,000 guns. These hands are one of the weapons the police have to stop guns from coming into Chicago. They belong to Sgt. John Hamilton, the best in the nation at what he does. We can’t show his face because he works under cover finding hidden compartments in vehicles that are bringing guns and drugs into the city.
SGT. JOHN HAMILTON: Outwardly, it appears absolutely normal; there’s no immediate identifiers that you can identify the compartment in this vehicle. The sequence to operate this hidden compartment was the rear window wiper on high, activate the rear window defroster, turn the cruise control on and turn the parking light on – there’s magnetic reads underneath the plastic here, so if you know where to place the magnet, the entire floor raises up.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: How much will this truck hold?
SGT. JOHN HAMILTON: About a hundred kilos of cocaine; this would hold 500 handguns easily.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: This police video shows what Sgt. Hamilton was able to find hidden in a secret compartment on a previous stop. Hamilton’s colleagues in the targeted response units are the ones who stop suspicious cars. Police say these traffic stops are crucial. Gangs are still the largest problem in Chicago and police say saturating a troubled area with police is the best way to minimize existing or emerging gang conflicts.
New policing strategies, though effective, are not the only methods being credited for lowering the murder rate in Chicago. Non-profit community organizations have also intervened to stop the violence. One of the most effective is a group called CeaseFire.
CeaseFire Illinois is a non-profit group with 70 paid workers who go into high-risk areas to try to reduce violence. Two-thirds of its funding comes from the state of Illinois. MAN ON STREET: Let’s talk. Put them guns down. That’s the solution to it because you can’t talk behind bars.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: CeaseFire has documented 140 cases where it intervened in a conflict that was likely to involve a gun.
Gary Slutkin, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, is the director.
DR. GARY SLUTKIN, CeaseFire Director: CeaseFire has components that include gang intervention and outreach and interrupting violence directly. But it’s principally about changing thinking. The CeaseFire approach to reducing violence is that of changing the thinking from “I need to shoot” to “I don’t need to shoot; shooting is going to make it worse for me.”
ELIZABETH BRACKET: CeaseFire workers say they can cut through neighborhood hostility toward the police, and, as a result, can often be more effective.
EPHRAM TAURUS, Violence Interrupter: Directly, I don’t work with the police, you know. Like I said, you know, the guys out there, when we deal with the guys out there, they confide in us better than the police, you know, because sometimes we get down to the core of the problem faster than the police does.
TIO HARDIMAN, Gang Relations Services: A young man was shot, and he was killed. His brother was shot nine times. And we went out and we mediated. We talked him out of going back to retaliate.
EUGNE THOMAS, CeaseFire Client: Now, I’d be lost if it weren’t for CeaseFire. I’d be lost.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: The neighborhoods CeaseFire works in have seen a rising number of gang members return to the street after serving time in prison. It’s estimated that 21,000 inmates will get out of Illinois prisons this year. That’s why Chicago police, in cooperation with law enforcement from Cook County, the state of Illinois and the federal government, are also zeroing in on those neighborhoods with a new program dubbed Project Safe Neighborhoods. The project is very visible on billboards, radio and TV in the designated areas.
TV AD: Go to jail for a gun crime, and your family serves the sentence with you.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: Parolees in the targeted areas are required to attend meetings, where they face law enforcement representatives. A University of Chicago study found that only seven, or 1 percent, of the 700 who attended have committed another crime. One of the coordinators of Project Safe neighborhoods is David Hoffman, an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Chicago office.
DAVID HOFFMAN: The message is given to a targeted audience. It is given to people who are on parole in our targeted districts who committed gun crimes. And the message is: On the one hand, if you make the wrong choice and pick up a gun again, go back to the life of crime with a gun, here are the federal penalties that await you. And we are doing more of these; we are working closely with the police. And if you are prosecuted federally, your chances of going to jail for a long time in a faraway federal prison are very high.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: Virginia Kendall, a deputy chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office, is the other coordinator. She says the two pronged approach– tough talk and interagency coordination– are the keys to the programs success.
VIRGINIA KENDALL: I think it’s had a tremendous impact on our community because it’s one of the first times that all of the different players have sat down at the table from law enforcement and from community groups to address the same issue: The violence and gun violence in Chicago.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: That kind of coordination means Chicago police know when potentially dangerous felons are about to be released. Gang leaders often wind up on Chicago’s version of a “Most Wanted” list. One of them– Sean Betts, known as “Shaky”– is the leader of the Four-Corner Hustlers. After he was paroled recently, police followed him.
COMMANDER STEVE CALURIS: He actually drove straight through Chicago from Statesville, and went right through the city and into Indiana in violation of his parole.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: He’s not supposed to leave the state.
COMMANDER STEVE CALURIS: Couldn’t leave the state. So, the parole board issued a warrant, and he was taken into custody as he came back across the state borders. So, actually, his total taste of freedom was about six hours.
ELIZABETH BRACKET: The cooperation between law enforcement groups, plus the efforts of non-profits, are showing results in breaking cycles of retaliation. The latest statistics show there has been one less murder this year than at the same time last year. And Chicago is still hoping it’s on the way to another record year.