NEWARK, N.J.—If Garry McCarthy had a honeymoon as Newark's top cop it ended violently on a single day in July 2009.
On July 20 of that year, eight people were shot in two separate incidents, including a drive-by shooting that indiscriminately took the life of a mother of two who was walking back to her apartment from the grocery store.
A day later there were more shootings. Despite McCarthy's best efforts to import the crime-fighting techniques he'd learned in nearly three decades with the New York Police Department, crime in Newark was once again on the rise.
After Newark Mayor Cory Booker hired McCarthy away from the NYPD in 2006, he had enjoyed two years of positive publicity as murders in the notoriously violent and impoverished city dropped by 30 percent between 2007 and 2008.McCarthy has benefited from Booker's celebrity status, including regular appearances in the "Brick City" television documentary series.
But McCarthy's last couple of years here have been a slog. He's battled to keep violent crime as flat as possible, while the budget cuts of 167 officers have left the force at roughly 1,000. The murder of that mother of two, Nakisha Allen, was the catalyst for a series of ongoing demonstrations in the city in which activists and some politicians began calling for McCarthy's resignation.
"It's been a challenge," McCarthy said, acknowledging diminishing resources had changed the tone of his tenure in Newark..
But as McCarthy prepares to become the Chicago Police Department's next superintendent, his reputation in Newark as a crime fighter and administrator remains strong. He has been credited with increasing the professionalism and skill of the police department, while negotiating a thorny political landscape with the thick skin that he developed in decades of climbing the ranks of New York's top brass.
"Over the years, through some very tough times, Garry has not only become a highly valued director on my team but also a friend," Booker said Monday after Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel announced McCarthy's selection. "He has been a great servant to our city."
But some feel McCarthy is getting out of town at the right time as the police department's resources continue to dwindle and the city's dismal social conditions show no signs of real improvement.
McCarthy came highly recommended to Emanuel by a host of nationally known law enforcement officials, but none more influential than William Bratton, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and commissioner of the NYPD, where he promoted McCarthy to precinct commander in the 1990s.
"He stood out among the crowd, and it was an outstanding crowd. There was a lot of talent in the New York Police Department," Bratton said. "He projects confidence. He's smart, articulate, assertive. And he's not afraid to stick his neck out."
People who have known McCarthy over the years consistently painted him as a deft handler of big-city politics. Bratton noted McCarthy maintained his pressure-cooker job as the department's top anti-crime strategist through three subsequent police commissioners.
"To survive in such a significant position, which is a lynchpin of (department operations) is a reflection of his strength," Bratton said.
Chicago will be a whole new ballgame, said Bratton, who knows Chicago's police landscape well through longstanding ties to top brass here. The size and entrenchment of the street gangs in Chicago "will be much bigger than anything he's dealt with in New York or Newark," Bratton said, and the politics of the moment will be a new test of McCarthy's skills, as well.
"In Chicago, you have a very racially conscious city and a new mayor who has not been tested," Bratton said. "Its crime problem has been improving but the perception of it, and fear of it, has been increasing."
McCarthy's critics in Newark said the opposite was true—that the police director and his mayor created a perception they had made the city safer, while people who live in the most dangerous neighborhoods were having a very different experience.
"Mayor Booker and Director McCarthy have done a fabulous PR job. Because everybody around the world thinks they're doing a great job," said Bashir Akinyele, spokesman for a coalition of anti-violence groups. "But if you come to Newark, that's not what people will say."
Protesters have focused on racial tension in the city. Newark is more than half African-American, with a large population of Hispanics. Akinyele said minority communities have felt McCarthy, as well as Booker, who is African-American, have been more accessible to the white community.
"He had an arrogant way of treating the people of the city of Newark," Akinyele said.
Not everybody has seen it that way. Councilman Luis Quintana, who chairs the public safety committee, said he opposed McCarthy's confirmation in 2006 because he felt Booker was trying to jam him down the council's throats.
But McCarthy appointed black and Hispanic officers as his top deputies, and was always willing to sit on the hot seat and take questions at City Hall meetings, Quintana said. "If I had to vote for him today, I would support him."
In Chicago, McCarthy will be walking into another complicated political landscape—from neighborhoods still defined largely along racial lines to the insular culture of the police department itself.
Emanuel made a campaign promise of adding 1,000 officers to the city's streets. But the city is facing a large budget deficit and it remains unclear where the money would come from to add employees.
Violent crime has been gradually decreasing in the last several years after a big drop in 2003 and 2004, but for many in the city it doesn't feel that way. While some affluent neighborhoods are as safe as any leafy suburb, gang and drug violence continues to menace the city's poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
McCarthy's policing methods are rooted in his experience both as a street cop in the Bronx, and also as a police executive running CompStat, the system pioneered in New York that analyzes crime statistics as they are happening, combining trends with intelligence from the street to identify developing conflicts, and then deploying officers to those areas. Because most of the violence in Chicago is clustered in gang turf on the South and West Sides, such a strategy means putting more cops there.
"Deploying your resources where they are going to have the greatest effect is the best way to reduce violent crime," McCarthy said in an interview. "You have significant resources in the worst areas. We've found it to be tried and true."
But every time the police department raises the idea of shifting patrol officers out of the more docile stretches of the North and Southwest Sides of the city, those communities and their aldermen put up a fight. It is a quandary that McCarthy will have to face almost immediately once he's in office.
"Because I know it's been resisted here, and strongly resisted, I'm going to have to come up with another method to achieve the same answer," McCarthy said. "Unless we're ready to take on another fight, which I'm not sure we want to fight walking through the door."
Inside the department, McCarthy will have different hills to climb. Emanuel, the guy who picked him, talked bluntly during the campaign about the city's budget woes and police officers feared he would come after their pension benefits. The police union supported Gery Chico in the mayor's race. And McCarthy will have to overcome the bitterness of cops who wanted one of their own promoted to the job.
Morale in the department, even by the standards of cranky cops, was dragged to new lows when Mayor Richard Daley named former FBI official Jody Weis the superintendent. Officers have felt both disrespected and second guessed by Weis, whose career in a federal agency left a wide culture gap with the rank and file.
Some Chicago officers say privately they fear a theme of "this is how we did it in New York" condescension from McCarthy. But he said that's not how plans to operate.
"What it is we do here should be Chicago-centric. I'm not going to try and change the culture of this agency in a negative way," McCarthy said. "I'm going to try and build on what they have. Because they've got a lot of great cops here and they're going to make the decisions to help me."
Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, the former Chicago cop who was briefly one of the contenders for the Chicago job, doubts McCarthy's outsider status will amount to much of an obstacle. Some cops won't like him because he's an outsider, Ramsey said. But some cops never like the superintendents who are insiders, either.
"That's just the nature of the beast," said Ramsey.
From scandals and leadership problems to the flight of veteran officers, it's been a rocky few years for the police department. Still, crime has gone down in Chicago and McCarthy believes good police work is the reason. He hopes to move the department forward, to make it better, and to make its officers feel better about the job they do.
"Many organizations are simply waiting for a spark," he said. "And I'm excited and I hope that I can provide that spark here."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times