(Chicago Tribune) The black religious leaders listened intently last week as the police official discussed crime in the Gresham (6th) police district on Chicago’s South Side.
But the officer who stood before them in the banquet room wasn’t wearing the familiar checkerboard hat or distinctive blue uniform of Chicago police. Instead, a Cook County sheriff’s official, attired in the department’s rather bland brown uniform, addressed the curious crowd.
“Why is the sheriff in the 6th district?’ asked First Deputy Chief Marlon Parks. “Three words: quality of life.”
As Chicago struggles with the double-barreled problem of a generational spike in violence and the collapse in trust of police, Sheriff Tom Dart has stepped into the fray with a policing strategy that seeks to balance law enforcement in one high-crime district with robust community engagement.
In recent weeks, Dart has deployed some 70 officers to the violence-plagued streets of the Gresham District. Their uniformed patrols have not gone unnoticed by neighborhood residents. In addition, traditional gang and gun teams not only back up Chicago cops but also carry out their own investigations — armed with intelligence gathered from gang members locked up in the Cook County Jail, run by the sheriff.
At the same time, the sheriff is emphasizing a level of commitment to community policing not seen in Chicago for some time. His staff is asking residents and community leaders for help in the fight to reduce crime. When neighbors complain about a drug house, the sheriff’s cops are taking action — and then following up with phone calls to update them on the outcome. They’re even assigning nonviolent offenders sentenced to community service to clean up garbage-strewn vacant lots in the Gresham District.
As Cook County’s top elected cop, Dart holds an enviable advantage over his Chicago counterparts. While the county board controls his budget, the sheriff makes policy and policing decisions largely independently, giving him the latitude to make the commitment to Chicago — beyond the county’s unincorporated areas, his usual turf.
Chicago police say they welcome the help.
The sheriff runs its Gresham District operation from a mobile command van powered by a generator tucked back from 79th Street at Maryland Avenue, a high-energy area with constant foot traffic and colorful overhead business signs.
The police district includes the Chatham and Auburn Gresham neighborhoods, home to proud bungalow owners whose lawns are carefully tended. Its older residents want help fending off the young criminals carving up the blocks into gang factions.
“You have less than savory characters who want to set up shop in these neighborhoods,” said sheriff’s police Sgt. Chris Calhoun, who grew up “three stop lights” from the command center and is heading up an evening gang team. “Seniors are too old to fight.”
Since 2014, the sheriff has been providing some manpower off and on to help fight crime in Chicago’s most violent pockets. But Chicago’s spike in violence in 2016 — its worst in two decades — led Dart to consider whether the commitment could go deeper. The office examined crime data and settled on Gresham, in part because shootings had continued to rise there this summer while easing down in some other problem districts.
Chicago police had started up a “nerve center” in Gresham earlier this year to provide real-time data trends to assist deployment and crime-fighting strategies when Dart’s office approached in September.
“They said they wanted to work with us on our problem areas,” said Gresham District Cmdr. William Bradley. “They did research on hot zones, and it lined up with where I was sending my resources. I am willing to take whatever assistance or collaboration to make my district safer for my people.” Continue Reading
Article Org: chicagotribune.com