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Reining in the rats

In August, Chicago decided to crack down on its rat problem by beefing up its rodent baiting army. But have more boots on the ground in the last three months helped?

The city added more crews because this year, 311 service calls for rodent baiting — where crews search for and set out poison for rats — increased 28 percent from 2011.

Anne Sheahan, Director of Public Affairs for the Department of Streets and Sanitation, said a surge of calls in the summer is expected. Not only is the weather nice, but more outdoor activities mean more chances for rat food: garbage from picnics, scattered seed from birdfeeders and dog waste.

However, she said the jump in calls was most likely caused by the rats skating through last year's unseasonably warm winter.

But since the extra man power began working on Aug. 23, the number of  311 calls dropped.

Sheahan said the department added two more crews to help the city respond more quickly and do more preventative baiting. There are now 17 rodent baiting crews with two to three people per crew. She also said the department is looking to reassign some of their limited duty personnel — employees who can't operate heavy machinery, for example — to rodent baiting.

The city doesn't keep records on the number of rats it catches, but it does note the number of premises that had rats, as well as those that were baited and had garbage on site. The city has visited more than 154,000 premises in the past six months.

While the chart above shows a drastic difference in the past three months compared with the three months prior, it's important to note that there are 1,797 open cases from Aug. 23 to Nov. 25 not counted yet (the city does not record the numbers until cases are closed).

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