Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy addresses rise in police-involved shootings

July 26, 2011

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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(AP file/Mel Evans)
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy dicusses this year's rise in officer-related shootings in Chicago.

During the original broadcast, Eight Forty-Eight said that police have been involved in more shootings over the last six months than in all of 2010. Police dispute that number but could not immediately provide the number of times officers shot at citizens in 2010 or 2011. They provided only the number of times officers shot and injured citizens. According to the Independent Police Review Authority police shot and injured 44 people in 2010. Chicago police say in 2011 they've shot and injured 41 people so far.

Crime is down in Chicago, but the number of police-involved shootings isnot. Monday night two civilians were shot by police-- one a 13-year-old boy. According to Independent Police Review Authority, 18 people have been killed by police fire in 2011 so far.  That total for last year was 13. But cops are in the crossfire too: Police say violence toward officers is on the rise. Mayor Emanuel has moved more officers onto the streets. Leading the efforts against crime is Garry McCarthy -- Chicago’s new police superintendent.

The former Newark, New Jersey police director recently earned his Chicago blues. He decided to complete academy training before donning the Chicago Police Department uniform. Now, Supt. McCarthy is dressed and ready to confront what he described as a "wanton disregard for law." Eight Forty-Eight’s Alison Cuddy spoke to the new police chief the morning after two police-involved shootings.

Cuddy began by asking Supt. McCarthy about the previous night’s events. The superintendent cautioned that the information he had was preliminary and that he expected a full briefing following completion of the investigation. Generally, McCarthy said, initial information from the scene is incorrect.

Cuddy repeated an early estimate of eight shots fired, reported by the victim’s family—McCarthysaid he’d heardthere were six.

“Sometimes he’s [a victim] struck in and out, so, it counts as, you know…two holes, one shot,” McCarthy said.

Cuddy asked if it was standard to fire multiple shots. The superintendent wanted to dispel some myths: Officers do not aim to shoot someone in the hand, they do not aim at their leg—they’re trained, said McCarthy,  to fire at center mass until the threat has been abated. There is no magic number, he clarified.

The number of police-involved shootings is up— but McCarthy offered some context: The Chicago Police Department recovers more firearms than any other jurisdiction in the country.

“Just think about that for a second: Every single time a police officer takes a gun off the street, they are in an armed confrontation that can, in fact, result in somebody being killed,” McCarthy said.

He estimated that some 20 shootings occurred since his arrival; firearms were recovered at 16 of those scenes. The weapon recovered Monday night at the scene involving the 13-year-old victim was described in reports as a BB gun, but McCarthy called it an “imitation pistol” fashioned to look like a real firearm.

And so, McCarthy explained, it becomes difficult to “armchair quarterback” officers in life-and-death situations when the department is recovering firearms in the vast majority of armed confrontations.

Cuddy then asked whether the spike in police-involved shootings could be attributed to the sheer volume of guns and weapons. McCarthy said that the unabated flow of illegal firearms into Chicago is fueling the incidents, emphasizing repeatedly the fact that the firearms are illegal.

Paradoxically, crime in the city is down, but McCarthysaid he  is not satisfied.

“More than 400 murders every year in this city over the last decade or so. Even though it’s down, are we willing to say that’s acceptable?” McCarthy asked.

McCarthy said no, reducing murders is not enough. A number of officers and new recruits were recently pulled from administrative assignments to patrol streets in high-crime neighborhoods. Cuddy asked whether inexperience or outdated training was a concern—McCarthy said it wasn’t; officers received an update to their training before returning to the field.

Cuddy asked whether resources or additional back-up could prevent shootings but McCarthy explained that while the former is a union-based issue, the latter is inconsequential.

“You shoot if you’re in an armed confrontation and you feel that your life is in danger. Whether or not there’s somebody standing next to you or behind you is not a factor in whether or not you’re going to discharge your firearm,” McCarthy explained.

Murder is not new to McCarthy. Newark, New Jersey and Chicago suffer from homicide rates higher than both New York and Los Angeles. But Chicago’s gang problem is one he did not experience in his last post, he said.  People, McCarthy said, often get caught up in “romanticizing” gangs. Cuddy asked him to explain.

“If you look at defending the honor of your gang and so on and so forth, I mean, let’s face it, that’s nonsense. Defending gang turf, you know, it’s some sort of, ‘yeah, I’m part of a gang and this is what we do.’ I’m sorry, it’s criminal activity—whether you’re dealing drugs, whether you’re shooting somebody or whether you’re involved in a robbery crew,” he elaborated.

The crusade to end gang violence in Chicago was a totem for the last police superintendent. McCarthy’s predecessor, Jody Weis, was lauded for his efforts to get guns and gangs off Chicago’s streets but criticized for failing to connect with the rank and file.

McCarthy said that as a police leader, superintendents walk a tightrope between supporting officers when they’re right and disciplining them when they’re not. He said that he has officers’ backs but will not defend indefensible behavior.

“I’m not going to defend an officer on videotape beating the heck out of a bartender at 2 o’clock in the morning intoxicated,” McCarthy added.

Mistakes, McCarthy said, must be identified, admitted and  not repeated. Fairness and accountability, he said, are the heart of improved morale.