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Englewood Ride-Along: Violence, Guns, Hope

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Chicago Police Lt. Ken Bigg explains his job to CBS 2's Mai Martinez during a recent ride-along. (CBS)

Chicago Police Lt. Ken Bigg explains his job to CBS 2′s Mai Martinez during a recent ride-along. (CBS)

Mai Martinez Mai Martinez
Mai Martinez co-anchors CBS 2 Chicago’s weekend evening newscasts and...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Englewood has long been considered one of Chicago’s deadliest neighborhoods, but the area is seeing a dramatic drop in murders — down more than 40 percent, according to Chicago police.

The Chicago Police Department’s Gang Violence Reduction Strategy is being credited with the decline.

CBS 2’s Mai Martinez went on patrol Friday night to see just what officers are up against and how they’re fighting it. It was just an hour and a half, but it was an eye-opening experience.

As Chicago Police Lt. Ken Bigg walked out of the 7th District, he explained officers were dealing with “just about everything” on the streets of Englewood.

And he was right.  Moments later, the police radio crackled with a call about a man with a gun fleeing police.  The description was brief – “Pontiac Grand Prix, two male black occupants” — but enough for Lt. Bigg to hit his lights and sirens and take off in the direction of the suspects’ car.

It was stopped a short time later by another squad car. Police got the bad guys, but not the gun that pursuing officers say was tossed during the chase.

Dozens of officers converged on the area to find the weapon. K-9 units were also brought in, but no luck. It was discouraging news for all the officers on the scene.

“Hopefully a good citizen would find it,” Lt. Bigg said.

The alternative: It could end up in the wrong hands. Or, as Bigg says: “Then it’s trouble.”

Trouble because of the gun violence in Englewood. Memorials outside homes and around trees are evidence of the lives lost.

Much of the violence is tied to gangs. That’s why police are using gang audits as part of a strategy to identify gang members and their associates.

“Those are the people you want to start looking at because those are the ones who are often times going respond violently when one of their fellow gang members gets shot,” Bigg said.

The objective is to head off potential violence by attempting to neutralize any kind of retaliation. Bigg says the strategy has been “very effective” in Englewood since it was launched mid-January. According to Chicago police, homicides were down 42 percent as of Oct. 12, 2012.

But there’s still much work to do to keep the streets safe, and the fire power officers are up against is frightening. About an hour into CBS 2’s ride-along, the radio crackled with a disturbing call: “Gray 4-door Explorer with an AK-47.”

En route to the location, Bigg is waved down by a man running out into the street.

En route to that call, a man ran out into the street screaming for help. He told police he and his brother were robbed while changing a flat; the brother was injured.

As he was transported for medical help, police talked to witnesses, but they didn’t offer much. That’s a familiar and frustrating problem for officers: the code of silence.

Bigg says that’s not stopping him or other officers from trying.

“Something’s working. If we just keep at it and keep working hard, it will continue to go our way,” he said.

Lt. Bigg says another component of the department’s policing strategy that’s helping is having more beat cops.

He says if officers are able to get out and talk to the members of the community, they’re more likely to gain their trust, and those people can then become allies in the fight against crime.

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