Emanuel’s push to curb crime gets split verdict in Chicago poll

Chicago voters are split on how Mayor Rahm Emanuel has handled the crime problem that was a high-profile focus of his second year in office, but they like the job Garry McCarthy is doing as the city’s top cop, a Tribune/WGN-TV poll found.

The mayor’s approval rating on crime is holding steady from a year ago at 45 percent. But the number of voters who disapprove is rising — from 34 percent last May to 47 percent in the current survey. McCarthy, meanwhile, was viewed as doing well by nearly 6 in 10 voters.

The increase in Emanuel’s negatives on crime came during a 2012 that saw more than 500 homicides recorded in Chicago for the first time in four years, as the city’s gun violence problem attracted national attention. Since then, Emanuel and McCarthy have gone back to some of the strategies used in years past when violent crime was trending down. In the first four months of this year, homicides are down sharply from the large number in the same period the year before. They are also down compared with the average during those months from 2006 to 2011.

Still, the findings in the current survey show the toll last year’s gun violence took on the mayor as he reaches the middle of his term next week. Driving the increase in disapproval were minority voters. A majority — 52 percent — of African-American and Latino voters said they were dissatisfied with Emanuel’s efforts to curb crime.

In addition, the percentage of black voters dissatisfied with Emanuel on crime is up 10 percentage points from a similar Tribune survey a year ago. Among Latino voters, the disapproval of Emanuel’s anti-crime strategy has grown by nearly 20 percentage points in a year.

The increase in the percentage of voters dissatisfied with Emanuel on crime, especially among minority groups, and the stability of those with favorable opinions holds true for the mayor’s overall job performance as well, according to the poll.

The latest poll also found that about 4 in 10 black voters were satisfied with Emanuel’s efforts on crime, while 52 percent of white voters said they approved of his efforts.

Last year, Emanuel sought to downplay the attention given to the city’s homicide rate, an embarrassment in the hometown of President Barack Obama, then seeking re-election. This year the mayor has not shied away from promoting the downturn in homicides.

“I know what my responsibilities are, and my responsibility is to make sure we are driving down the rate of shootings and homicides and overall crime. That’s happening and that’s day in and day out,” Emanuel said in a recent City Hall interview with the Tribune.

Emanuel said a strategy of impact zones — adding police to areas with the worst violence — is being buttressed.

That tactic represents a change for Emanuel and McCarthy. When the mayor took office, he inherited a police force that had been depleted by at least 1,000 officers in the latter years of Richard M. Daley’s administration. McCarthy and Emanuel dealt with the reduction in force, in part, by disbanding so-called saturation teams once used to flood crime hot spots.

The move drew criticism last year as the homicide rate soared. In January, amid a continuing surge in gun violence, Emanuel called a news conference with McCarthy and announced that the department would put 200 officers back into saturation teams.

Much of the criticism over the 2011 disbanding of saturation teams came from aldermen in African-American wards on the South Side. McCarthy, however, has displayed a sensitivity to racial and social issues since early in his tenure as superintendent. Part of his rationale for disbanding larger saturation teams, he has said, stemmed from their use of stop-and-frisk methods that he viewed as detrimental to building trust between police and residents, especially in minority neighborhoods.

The poll found McCarthy, Emanuel’s hand-picked police superintendent, with a higher job approval rating than the mayor. A total of 59 percent of those surveyed approved of McCarthy’s job performance, compared with 50 percent who approved of the job Emanuel has done as mayor.

Only 28 percent of city voters polled said they disapprove of the job McCarthy has done in leading the police force. While a majority of African-American voters expressed dissatisfaction with Emanuel on crime, 53 percent approved of McCarthy’s handling of the job compared with 36 percent who disapproved.

Aside from crime and safety issues in city neighborhoods, McCarthy’s tenure in Chicago has been partly defined by his performance during the May 2012 NATO summit.

When McCarthy arrived, he was viewed within the department as an outsider from New York. He got a boost among rank-and-file officers who saw him putting in the same hours on the street as they were during NATO. When clashes between protesters and police turned violent, McCarthy was standing at the back of the line in his white shirt and blue cap running the show and helped remove an officer with a minor stab wound.

Among white voters surveyed, 65 percent backed the job McCarthy was doing, as did 61 percent of Latino voters. Disapproval among white respondents was 19 percent, and 34 percent among Hispanic voters. The poll of 800 Chicago voters has an error margin of 3.5 percentage points. Interviewers conducted the phone survey from April 30 to Monday.

While McCarthy is popular in Chicago, he’s viewed as a dyed-in-the-wool law enforcement type not looking to translate it into a run for political office.

The survey also found that nearly 7 in 10 respondents feel as safe in their neighborhoods as they did before Emanuel became mayor, while 20 percent feel less safe since he took office in May 2011. Eleven percent said they felt their neighborhood was safer. A year ago, 65 percent of city voters said they considered their neighborhood safe from crime, while 31 percent said they felt their neighborhood was unsafe.

In the current poll, three-quarters of white voters and 62 percent of black voters said there was no change in the safety of their neighborhood, while 15 percent of whites and 26 percent of blacks said they felt less safe, the poll found.

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