Chicago’s Austin Residents Welcome County Patrols

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2019-09-06 01:08:41

On any given evening, you might find Commander Terrence Tabb on patrol in the 15th police district in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s Far West Side.

“It’s one of the hottest districts in the city,” Tabb says.  “So my guys are pretty busy — a lot!”

What’s unusual about Tabb’s presence is that he works for the Cook County Sheriff’s Police. And he’s part of a team deployed on the ground inside the City of Chicago, on what is traditionally seen as the turf of the Chicago Police.

“The title is Sheriff of Cook County,” sheriff Tom Dart says. “The largest town in the county is the city of Chicago, and my mandate is to go where I’m needed.”

Dart deploys about 40 officers a day in Austin, working out of a portable trailer on a rock-strewn vacant lot. Each day they patrol the neighborhood, in marked and unmarked squad cars, and on foot.

The sheriff acknowledges that at first, there were some raised eyebrows.

“There was sort of this pushback — what are you doing here — well, two things,” he said. “One, because there’s an issue, but two, I don’t need your permission! I can go anywhere in the county, and I don’t even have to call you.”

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, NBC 5 walked a beat with four of the sheriff’s officers, calling on businesses and generally showing the flag in what has traditionally been seen as one of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.

“You can’t drive with blinder’s on,” Officer Martin Webster said, noting the importance of patrolling on foot. “You have to get out, you have to walk, you have to make relationships with the businesses, with the citizens.”

Officer Christopher Harris echoed those sentiments.

“Sometimes you’ll change an outlook,” he said. “I think it makes the average criminal more apprehensive about doing certain things.”

There is no arguing the reception they have received. Citizen after citizen went out of their way to praise the county officers and their close-up presence.

“Always happy to have ’em,” said grocer Gus Casaccio. “It’s such a pleasure, you have a comfortable feeling when you know they’re around!”

Others said they welcome the sight of the County foot patrols, because they have little contact with CPD officers who they see driving by in squad cars but never on foot.

“I get sad when I don’t see them,” merchant Ashanti Adams said, noting that the officers paid a visit to her store at least once a week.

As rain began to fall, the county officers gathered for roll call beneath the canopy of an Austin gas station.

“Number one, officer safety,” Deputy Chief Mike Anton reminded his team. “You knock a car down, I want another one backing them up.”

Anton told NBC 5 he’s been overwhelmed by the welcome his officers have received.

“It’s overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “And the violence we’re here to stop? We haven’t stopped all of it, but it has slowed down, and the numbers prove that.”

Those numbers are good. In the time the Sheriff’s Police have been deployed in Austin, murders are down 22% and shooting incidents are down 45%.

To be fair, even the county officers note they have the luxury to walk the beat, because they aren’t chasing the radio calls which keep CPD officers busy. And if there ever was grumbling on the part of Chicago officers about turf issues, they are not evident now.

“There’s enough crime in this city to go around,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told NBC 5, calling the presence of the County officers a “great partnership.”

“This city has a lot of challenges and we all have to work together,” he said. “As a group, one mission, one goal, and that is to reduce the violence in this city.”

Standing outside his makeshift command post, Dart said his next move will be a deployment into the South Side sometime next year.

“We’re planning on being here forever,” he said. “We aren’t planning on leaving!”

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