The much anticipated NATO summit in Chicago is two months away and Chicago police are gearing up. But right now, they're encountering a different challenge on the streets: a big upswing in gun violence. During the past week, at least 50 people have been shot -- including a fatally shot 6-year-old girl and a Chicago police officer, who is recovering from a bullet wound to his chest. So far this year, there have been 97 homicides in the city compared with just 68 for the same period last year.
Why the surge in violence and how are Chicago police responding? Chicago Tonight spoke with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to find out.
Tell me about your preparation for the NATO summit and impending protests.
For the NATO summits, quite frankly, we’ve been doing the same things for months. We’re training our officers, working with federal authorities to establish footprints of the events. I got to tell you, the G-8 summit moving to Camp David has had very little effect on our operational responsibilities. It’s still 50 countries coming to the city. Whoever was coming to demonstrate, we’re going to do what we’ve been saying: protect the First Amendment right to free speech while preventing people from doing criminal acts. That’s what we’re training for. The vast, vast, vast majority of people are coming to express their First Amendment right—and we’re going to protect that. That’s what we’re gearing up for, but some people’s intents are to come here and cause problems. So we’re gearing up with strategies for that so we can enforce the law.
Ten people were killed and more than 40 wounded in violence last weekend in the city’s first warm weekend of 2012. But you say, contrary to popular belief, that the weather thing is kind of a myth?
People misinterpret weather. Weather does not cause or prevent crime, that’s really the bottom line. There are some conditions where weather might affect crime. A 30-inch catastrophic snowstorm will keep people off the streets. When there’s warm weather, there will be more people on the street, so more opportunity. The fact that somebody wants to blame the weather for the crime is unconscionable. It’s not the weather, the tides or voodoo. I’m not willing to push it off to something as simple as the weather. It’s my responsibility, and we will come up with strategies. It’s frustrating when people say there’s nothing you can do because the weather is nice.
What kind of strategies?
Here is the bottom line: everything we’ve done so far since I got here is intent on creating an organization that systematically reduces crime, and it’s set up to do that. We’re run more like a business now; we’re no longer hierarchical. Some of our systems are not developed to do what we want to do yet. But we have more than a 10 percent reduction in crime right now. Where we’re struggling: we did not have a comprehensive gang violence reduction strategy. It really starts with having intelligence information in the hands of officers on the street. Whether it’s shots fired, or stabbing, or whether it’s an argument. When that beat officer responds, he needs to know who is in what office and have the ability to look out and prevent something from happening.
There are more murders so far this year  compared to the same time last year . Is it the gang violence?
Yes. Over the course of the last couple of months, we’ve been doing well in reported crime, but struggling with gang violence. Not a new phenomena, but happened to explode last week. We’ve been working for months and there are technological things. It has to start with recognition of everything in the department; that one crime can spur two or three more, and we have to get out in front of it.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm to talk about the recent string of violence in Chicago, planning for the upcoming NATO summit and more.
Check out our interactive map of the 10 fatal shootings during the city's first warm weekend of the year below.
Fatal Shootings During Chicago's First Warm Weekend of 2012, March 16 through 1:35 a.m. Monday, March 19.
Do you feel the Chicago Police Department is responding well to the increase in gun violence in the city and is on track to adequately handle NATO summit protests? Post your comments below or sound off on our discussion board!