Chicago Gang Violence: Police Chief Jody Weis Follows Through On Controversial Strategy

A little over two months ago, the city of Chicago erupted in controversy over, of all things, policing strategy.

Splashed across the front page of city papers was the story of Police Superintendent Jody Weis holding a clandestine meeting with gang leaders in which he issued an ultimatum: the next time a gang member kills someone, the police would crack down, hard, on everyone in the organization.

City officials were skeptical of the strategy, accusing Weis of "negotiating with urban terrorists." Gangsters held a press conference denouncing the plan as harassment.

Despite his critics, Weis stood by the meeting, and the policy. And on Tuesday, the department announced the results of its first crackdown, following the August 31 murder of 18-year-old Anthony Carter.

Since that time, the Chicago Police Department has made over 60 arrests on members of the Black Souls gang that perpetrated the killing, the department announced today in a release. Four of those were weapons-related; over 50 were drug arrests. Many of the arrests were for minor crimes or misdemeanors, which may have gone unnoticed without the extra attention.

"This one incident (the Carter murder) created a ripple effect throughout their membership," Weis said in a statement.

The purpose of the arrests is to cause gangs to police themselves -- if every murder results in a torrent of arrests, gang leaders are more likely to discourage the use of violence to resolve personal disputes.

So the theory goes. And David Kennedy, the founder of Operation CeaseFire and the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has seen it work.

Kennedy has overseen the implementation of a similar strategy in Boston, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and other cities, all of which have seen marked decreases in gun violence.

But Kennedy urges patience.

"The real value is after law enforcement completes the first takedown, and uses the takedown as the example in the next call-in," he said in a statement. "With Cincinnati, a 40% decrease occurred in homicides, but this did not occur until after the 3rd call-in."

"Call-in" is Kennedy's term for what the media has called a "gang summit." The second call-in is planned for "the near future," police said. At that meeting, community leaders will talk to gang members about the effects of violence in the city, and will discuss social-service organizations that help rehabilitate former gang members.

Meanwhile, though there's no definitive relationship between the call-in and the data, homicides have decreased in the two months since Weis announced the policy. According to Chicago RedEye's Homicide Tracker, September 2010 saw nine fewer homicides than the same month last year, and October is on pace to be less violent than 2009 as well.

"It is our obligation to the residents of Chicago to attack this violence from every angle, with every resource; the message will be made very clear -- gang violence must stop," said Weis.