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Chicago Looks To Community Policing To Reduce Violent Crime

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, there's been renewed talk of assault weapons bans and other gun control measures. But such legislation won't even be called for a vote in Illinois' state legislature this week, even though shootings and homicides have spiked in Chicago, topping 500 in the last year. So Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police department are renewing community policing in an effort to improve community relations and reduce violent crime.

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While violent crime has been dropping in many big cities, the city of Chicago saw a sharp increase in killings in 2012. So Chicago is beginning the New Year with a new approach. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police department have unveiled what they call a revitalization of community policing. They're re-emphasizing cooperation between cops and residents in certain high-crime neighborhoods. And they made that announcement today as it became clear that the mayor's gun control efforts were falling flat in the state legislature. Here's NPR'S David Schaper in Chicago.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy stands over a long table, filled with high-capacity semiautomatic handguns, rifles with scopes, AR-15s and even an AK-47.

GARY MCCARTHY: Can you imagine facing that thing in an alleyway late at night - 7.62 rounds?

SCHAPER: McCarthy says all of these guns were confiscated by Chicago police officers just since the new year began.

MCCARTHY: By the way, this is only a snapshot of what we got last week: 180 guns, first six days. Believe it or not, it's actually down a little bit from last year.

SCHAPER: Through all of last year, McCarthy says his officers confiscated a record number of guns - more than 7,400. The vast majority, he says, were handguns and about 400 were assault rifles. McCarthy acknowledges that an assault weapons ban in Illinois would not do much to reduce gun violence on Chicago's streets.

MCCARTHY: So even an assault weapons ban has to go further.

SCHAPER: McCarthy says most guns used in shootings in Chicago are purchased legally initially, but then resold.

MCCARTHY: You go into a gun shop, you can purchase these firearms legally. What happens when you walk out the door, there's no accountability, and those guns end up illegally transferred on the streets in the hands of gangbangers.

SCHAPER: McCarthy says Illinois needs to require the reporting of every loss, theft or transfer of a firearm, as is required in many other states. He and Mayor Emanuel are also pushing for long mandatory minimum sentences when guns are involved, and closing the loophole that allows gun show purchases without background checks, in addition to an assault weapons ban and a limit on magazine clips.

But those issues aren't even on the table as the state legislature wraps up its lame-duck session today. So in a city that recorded 506 homicides in 2012, the highest number in four years, Chicago is seeking other ways to boost crime fighting.

(APPLAUSE)

SCHAPER: Standing alongside Mayor Emanuel, other police officials and community leaders in a south side police station, Superintendent McCarthy announced that his department will overhaul its community policing efforts.

MCCARTHY: No component or facet of this strategy is more important than engagement and community trust. A strong partnership with the community is a force multiplier.

SCHAPER: Relations between Chicago police officers and residents of many communities, especially in high-crime African-American and Latino neighborhoods, have long been strained. Residents often complain of an us-against-them attitude and point to past incidents of abuse. McCarthy, the former police chief in Newark, acknowledges that Chicago police are still being punished for incidents that happened long ago.

MCCARTHY: The fact is I can't fix that. What I can do is focus on the behavior of our officers today.

SCHAPER: And this new community policing strategy aims to do just that.

ART LURIGIO: Community policing is not just about doing traditional cops and robbers kind of policing.

SCHAPER: That's Art Lurigio, a criminologist at Loyola University of Chicago, who helped develop the city's first community policing program 20 years ago. He praises the new effort, especially the training of all Chicago police officers, to better engage, interact with and respect residents.

LURIGIO: All community policing models have at their core putting the police closer to residents. Like politics, all policing is local.

SCHAPER: But Lurigio cautions that efforts such as these often take time to pay off, and Chicagoans shouldn't expect a sudden decrease in shootings just because police are taking this new approach to crime. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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