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Uptown in the News  

February 5, 2004
Lerner Skyline
New top cop in 23rd police district is on familiar turf
By Patrick Butler, staff writer

For Gary Yamashiroya, being named to head the Town Hall (23rd) police district was a homecoming of sorts.

After all, the 17-year veteran cop had been born around Irving Park and Sheridan roads, grew up in Rogers Park, and had been living on Lake Shore Drive for "quite some time" before then-retiring Supt. Terry Hillard sent him to the 23rd District.

He didn't need much breaking in.

After all, his first assignment was in the 19th District --- where his first call was a battery-in-progress in an alley behind the Vic Theater on Sheffield near Belmont.

"It was a great learning experience for me. My field training officer was a great teacher. He taught me by experiencing things first-hand," said the scholarly Yamashiroya, who majored in business at the University of Illinois, then went on to DePaul Law School while working the 20th (Foster Avenue) District and later the Area 6 Detective Division, which covered much of the North Side.

From there he went to his old stomping grounds in the 24th District back in Rogers Park, working under Cmdr. (now deputy supt.) Tom Byrne, Yamashiroya recalled after keynoting the Lake View East Chamber of Commerce's recent annual meeting at Monsoon Restaurant, 2813 N. Broadway.

Still looking for bigger and better challenges after a stint in the department's Research and Development unit, Yamashiroya took a year-and-a-half leave of absence to serve as a United Nations monitor and police training officer in Bosnia.

The experience of working with police officers from 48 different countries was "outstanding," said Yamashiroya, who came away with a new respect for the professional style of American police officers --- and a tradition that respects local control of law enforcement.

"Other countries have a different style of policing. More military. Like the (French) Gendamarie. And they have federal (police) forces. Which we don't," Yamashiroya said.

After returning home to a new assignment in the department's Legal Affairs unit, Yamashiroya was promoted to lieutenant and sent to the 3rd District, at 71st and Cottage Grove, where one of the cases he worked on was the murder of 11-year-old "Yummy" Sandifer, reportedly shot by his fellow gang members to keep him from talking to police in return for leniency.

Unlike a lot of his colleagues, Yamashiroya didn't grow up in a police family. Nor had he even considered a law-enforcement career until a friend of his --- Rick Sadini, now head of the 12th (Monroe) District, just west of the Loop --- talked him into taking the exam.

"Both of his parents were police officers and just from the exposure to his family, I thought it would be an interesting job," said Yamisharoya, noting that he and Sadini became commanders at about the same time Hillard started ordering police brass to go out on patrol once a week if possible.

The new Town Hall boss didn't need the invitation. He'd been doing street patrol all along.

"I'm a hands-on person. Not just during the day, but in the evening," said Yamashiroya, who had already scheduled himself to work the streets that Friday evening.

While he's made arrests, he usually makes sure the credit goes to the beat officer.

Most of the time, he added, people don't even realize they're talking to the boss.

"People who have been in the military will call me major" (after seeing the gold oak leaves on his collar). Others will call me sergeant, because I'm wearing a white shirt," said Yamashiroya.

Looking back on the changes since he first went on the job, Yamashiroya said the "greater interaction between the police and public" is one of the biggest changes he's seen.

Another is the "amazing" technology that just wasn't available when he was a rookie cop, he said.

Then there are the crimes themselves, said Yamashiroya, who handled a lot more violent offences when he was first working the streets of Lake View.

Today, as the neighborhoods have gentrified, property crimes and narcotics --- especially among young people --- predominate, he noted.

And while he considers himself enough of a realist to accept the fact he'll never completely stamp out crime, Yamashiroya nevertheless believes he can make a significant dent just by teaching residents and businesses how not to become victims.

Working closely with groups like the 230-member Lake View East Chamber of Commerce will be high priority, he promised the business owners who's very success has made them more vulnerable to crime. Board member Robert Smith and President Ernestine Tosto could recall the days when the group was so strapped for cash it had to throw a fund-raiser because the executive director was going to quit because she hadn't been paid in six weeks.

Today, our budget is around $600,000 (compared with when the chamber) didn't have $16,000 to pay the director," Smith said.

Having more to lose, of course, means having to pay more attention to crime prevention, Yamashiroya said.

Things as simple as not leaving briefcases or laptops computers in the back seat of a car where a would-be thief can see them. Or locking the car or apartment door, he added.

Fortunately, "attitudes are changing. People are more aware," said Yamashiroya, who hopes it's at least partly due to police crime-prevention education efforts.

Still, he's the first to admit the department can't afford to rest on its laurels.

Since we don't have a lot of violent crimes (anymore), people tend to focus on what they're experiencing now. All that's property crimes," said Yamashiroya. "We have to keep working. And if that's not working, we find new ways to address the problem."

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