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updated: 7/8/2013 4:22 PM

Chicago police turn to Twitter, texting

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  • Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy describes new efforts to let people anonymously send crime tips, along with videos and photos, to police, who can then relay them to computers in squad cars responding to calls.

      Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy describes new efforts to let people anonymously send crime tips, along with videos and photos, to police, who can then relay them to computers in squad cars responding to calls.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

Chicago police on Monday rolled out changes to a community policing program they hope will turn residents' cellphones into crime fighting tools that can be used to provide anonymous tips to help officers catch criminals -- and stem the kind of bloodshed that marred the recent holiday weekend.

During a news conference at which he was peppered with questions about a weekend that left 11 people shot to death and several dozen more wounded, Superintendent Garry McCarthy said residents will be able to come forward anonymously with tips and the police officers who get that information will never know where it originated.

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McCarthy said the department's efforts to build trust in the community, starting with an emphasis on putting beat officers in neighborhoods so they can get to know the people they serve, are paying off. But McCarthy has repeatedly talked about the no-snitch street culture that often leaves people reluctant or unwilling to come forward with information. Monday's announcement came with an assurance that police will never know who the tip came from or even the tipsters' phone numbers.

"That is one of the concerns that we hear echoed across the communities when we talk to them about new technology," said Jonathan Lewin, managing deputy director of public safety information technology for the department.

McCarthy said tips can be routed to police officers in squad cars before they arrive at crime scenes.

Further, McCarthy, said people making 911 calls will be able to send photographs directly to police from their cellphones.

"If we have a picture of a criminal committing a crime and we are approaching the scene ... something like that would be an unbelievable assistance to our men and women," he said.

The pilot program that is being rolled out in three communities -- two high crime areas on the city's West and South Sides and the trendy River North area -- also will include a pilot Twitter program that will allow police to share information such as community alerts, missing persons reports with residents.

McCarthy stressed the department's tactics to reduce crime have been successful, pointing out that so far this year the 200 homicides is 76 fewer than there were for the same period last year, and that the number of shooting incidents has dropped to 909 compared to 1,193 for the same period last year.

He said the weekend shootings -- including the wounding of two young children in two parks -- prompted him to enact a nontechnical strategy.

"You're going to see more enforcement of curfews in parks," he said. "Having people shot at 12:30 at night in a city park can be prevented by the police if we clear that park and get them out of the park."

McCarthy said he talked with Mayor Rahm Emanuel for more than an hour before the news conference.

"He wants to know what's going on, just like I want to know," he said.

Since last year, when the number of homicides in the city climbed past 500, Chicago has become a focus of the gun debate as it plays out nationally and in Illinois. On Monday, McCarthy found himself fielding questions about what might happen in the city once state lawmakers enact a law, as soon as Tuesday, that will allow residents to carry concealed weapons as they walk and drive the streets.

As he has done in the past, McCarthy said he was worried that the provision in the law that requires 16 hours training for a concealed carry permit is "absolutely inadequate."

"As sure as we're standing here, we're going to have tragedies," he said. "We have one playing our in Florida as we speak," he said, referring to the trial of a man charged in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin.

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