Joe Moore doubles down on community policing after Rogers Park murders

By Matt Craig
Medill Reports

Two months after an unresolved spree killing rocked his Rogers Park neighborhood, Alderman Joe Moore is trying to move on.

An “unprecedented” 40 Chicago police detectives are working to find the man responsible for two seemingly random murders within a 36-hour span in late September, yet the search has not produced much in the way of resolution.

“Unfortunately life is not like a TV crime show. Things don’t just get wrapped up in an hour,” Moore says. “I’m just fortunate that this individual has not struck again, and hopefully they moved out. Police had several suspicious people, several leads, but nothing that provided the probable cause they need to effectuate a search warrant or make an arrest.”

Violence prevention has been at the forefront of Moore’s duties in his 27-year tenure as alderman of Chicago’s 49th Ward, and despite a 54 percent reduction in violent crime in Rogers Park during his time in office, murders like those in September persist. It is a battle he will fight for his entire life.

Moore dreamed of entering politics from the time he was an eight-year-old devouring the political pages of the newspaper every morning. He volunteered for political campaigns as soon as he was old enough, and fondly remembers door-to-door canvassing for George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972 at age 13. But growing up in the western suburb of Oak Park, then Evanston when his family relocated at age 10, his relationship with the city’s persistent crime problems came at a distance until he moved to Rogers Park in 1980 to attend law school at DePaul University.

Over the next decade, as Moore completed school, became a practicing attorney for the City of Chicago Department of Law and bided his time to run for office, he witnessed his neighborhood being ravaged by crack cocaine.

When he first ran for alderman at age 31 in 1991, it was the height of the crack epidemic and he knew he needed to think outside the box. “I wanted to find a way to approach crime that wasn’t the same old, either being very defensive as a progressive Democrat or just echoing the right wing tough on crime rhetoric that was quite prevalent at that time,” Moore says.

His solution was community policing. A concept that until then existed only in academic circles, it was an attempt to take a more holistic approach to law enforcement by treating it as a partnership between the police and their communities. Moore built his campaign on the doctrine, and after being elected he fought hard for its implementation. Rogers Park became one of four police districts involved in the city’s pilot program in 1993, and over the course of the next decade CAPS—Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy—spread throughout the city.

On the whole, community policing is considered a success. Wesley G. Skogan and Susan M. Hartnett, researchers at Northwestern University, have tracked the policy’s progress from its infancy. “A host of community factors have proven to be powerful correlates of levels of crime,” they wrote in 2003, describing a 49 percent drop in violent crime city-wide in the first decade of implementation. “But less is known about whether [community policing] can clearly be linked to changes in levels of crime.”

As budgets tightened and crime numbers became easier to explain by other factors, such as demographic shifts and gun availability, CAPS has slowly begun to fade in recent years.

“Unfortunately Chicago as a whole took their eye off the ball,” Moore says. “But in Rogers Park it’s always been a part of the neighborhood, and will continue to be.”

A 2010 report by the Chicago Police Department found that the Rogers Park Police District has far fewer than the average police officers assigned to work in the neighborhood than other districts, but also the second lowest number of reported crimes in the city. These numbers align with the tenets of community policing, which encourage preventive measures and empowers citizens to solve their own problems.

However, another aspect of community policing is allowing citizens to influence the areas on which police focus. Citizens tend to emphasize “quality of life issues,” as Moore calls them, such as “drug dealing on the corner, loitering, panhandling, the general rundown nature of the neighborhood,” over more serious, sporadic crimes.

Perhaps that caused the area to be less prepared for what happened in September. Around 10 a.m. on Sept. 30, someone shot 73-year-old Douglass Watts in the head as he walked his dogs. The following night at about 10:20 p.m. police discovered the body of 24-year-old Eliyahu Moscowitz, similarly shot in the head. Police matched the shell casings from each killing to the same gun.

As the investigation unfolded, police searched in vain for a motive. There was no robbery, no gang affiliations, and no apparent link between the two victims. Police released security footage of the suspect, but his face was covered with a ski mask. Citizens called in more than 300 tips, which can be seen either as a byproduct of CAPS or as a result of the largest reward in Chicago law enforcement history, $150,000.

Community groups have formed on Facebook, such as “Rogers Park Neighborhood News,” where residents share useful information and in some cases even volunteer to escort their neighbors while they walk their dogs or come home from the train station at night. A similar group was formed for Loyola Chicago University students, called “Roam RoPo,” started by junior business student Ryan McMullin.

“My intentions were to give people that bridge to connect with others if they ever felt unsafe,” McMullin says, although it turned out to be an imperfect solution. He soon worried that the page was stoking paranoia, even spreading “fake news,” so he took the page down. “The whole purpose was to give people that medium of communication that they need,” he said. “While at times it hasn’t served that, at least I gave it a shot.”

Moore responded to the killings with the next phase in law enforcement, expanding Chicago’s “smart policing strategy” into Rogers Park. Analysts from the University of Chicago Crime Lab now staff a “strategic deployment center,” using new high-definition cameras installed in public areas, predictive software and mapping technology to attempt to prevent future crime. All police officers on a beat will receive a mobile phone equipped with tools and intelligence needed to respond in real time.

Now 60, Moore is steadfast in his belief of a holistic, community-based approach to fighting crime. He negotiated a share of the city’s $35 million investment in youth mentoring programs and $77 million in after-school programs. He’s the only alderman in the city to host an annual expungement seminar, hoping to educate people on how to clear their criminal record so they can obtain employment. He sponsors a job fair every year that provides special opportunities for those re-entering society from prison.

“There’s a myriad of reasons that crimes are committed, and you need a myriad of different solutions to address those problems,” he says. “It’s not just bad guys it’s poverty, it’s subpar schools, it’s a lack of hope in some communities that contributes to the violence problem.”

Chicago city elections loom in late February, bringing a sense of urgency to the latest crime discussions. Moore hopes his constituents will reward what he describes as his transparent and earnest efforts. His campaign has also been aided by a $20,000 donation from outgoing Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, with whom Moore voted 97 percent of the time and never opposed a single major mayoral initiative. Moore is facing three challengers in Maria Hadden, Bill Morton and Nathan Myers, with all four candidates running as left-leaning independents. Hadden is looking to become the first African-American alderman in a North Side ward, and is expected to give Moore a more competitive race than in 2015, when Moore collected more than 66 percent of the vote.

Violence reform is a not a primary part of Hadden’s platform, and she did little to oppose Moore’s response to the murders when asked about it in a recent interview with Rebellious Magazine:

“The alderman can’t solve crime and the role of the alderman won’t be to prevent this,” said Hadden. “Those are limitations. Joe Moore couldn’t have prevented what happened and I won’t be able to either. When I talk about violence prevention in the neighborhood, there are a lot of proven ways that work for certain types of violence…But what we have this week is a random, senseless, unknown motivation and not an economic crime. And there’s real limitations there.”

Moore’s message is simple: lasting improvements take time, and his experience puts him in the best position to implement them. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the neighborhood,” he says, “but our work isn’t done.”

Photo at top: Joe Moore filing nominating petitions for mayor. (Facebook/JoeMoore49)