Can Safe Passage Be Sustained? Alderman Questions If City Can Pay Price

By Ted Cox on August 27, 2013 1:32pm | Updated on August 27, 2013 5:51pm

CITY HALL — A Northwest Side alderman is questioning whether the city can sustain the intense Safe Passage campaign beyond the first few weeks of school — especially given the city's limited resources.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), a leading progressive in the City Council, tweeted Monday after the first day of school that Safe Passage "is not sustainable if you add up real costs."

"Everybody wants the kids to be safe. That's priority No. 1," Waguespack said Tuesday. "But I don't know how long you can sustain pulling all those resources, and at what cost.

"A lot of Streets and Sanitation supervisors and district personnel were being stationed at a lot of the Safe Passages," Waguespack said. "So I don't know how long they can sustain that."

Waguespack pointed to the firefighters and fire trucks also stationed along Safe Passage routes.

"At some point you're going to need all these people back doing what they're supposed to be doing," he added.

Yet Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in no uncertain terms Tuesday that point is not now.

Asked at a news conference in Bucktown if Safe Passage can be sustained at its current intensity, Emanuel said, "Yes, and we will."

He added: "I do want the police out there, and the fire out there, because I want to be very clear about one thing, or two if I may. I want our kids to think of their studies, not their safety, when they're going to school. And I want to be clear to everybody that those streets, the streets our children take to school, are the streets of our children and our families, and they do not belong to our gangbangers."

Chicago Public Schools and the Mayor's Office have boasted they have 1,200 Safe Passage workers hired through this school year, double the 600 from last year — before 49 elementary schools were closed, sending displaced students reassigned this fall to so-called welcoming schools.

The total budget for Safe Passage is $15.7 million.

 There was a large presence of Chicago police after school at 3:45 p.m. at the John Harvard Elementary School of Excellence in Grand Crossing.
There was a large presence of Chicago police after school at 3:45 p.m. at the John Harvard Elementary School of Excellence in Grand Crossing.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

Emanuel added Tuesday that community-policing efforts had signed up 3,000 additional local residents to monitor Safe Passage routes as well.

On Monday, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy talked of how his department was coordinating with 15 other city agencies to assure safe trips to and from schools for students. That involvement included firefighters and workers from the Transportation and Streets and Sanitation departments, among others.

McCarthy also spoke of how "people are sitting on their porches," adding, "Everybody seems to be engaged."

Waguespack wondered if that intensity can be sustained for long — both from an emotional standpoint and from a fiscal one.

He added that he's heard from Chicago police officers that they've left "depleted areas" on the North Side to be redeployed along Safe Passage routes.

"No one was taken out of their district," countered Adam Collins, Police Department spokesman. He added officers are working citywide on straight time, with no overtime, on Safe Passage.

Emanuel spoke Tuesday of taking the campaign to "the whole city, not just Safe Passage routes," saying, "I believe our schools are very safe, and I believe our routes will continue to be safe, and I think we're gonna work on it every day."

In Auburn Gresham Monday, parents of students heading to Ryder Elementary, 8716 S. Wallace St., for the first time were impressed by the police presence.

"I thought about how safe would it be for kids to walk across Halsted to get to Ryder. But I see there are plenty of police officers out this morning," said Mary Lasley, an Auburn Gresham resident whose 12-year-old son, Dangelo Lasley, is in the seventh grade. "Let's hope it stays that way all year long."

A West Side mother mourning the loss of her son's friend, Lavander Hearnes, wasn't so confident.

"You have all the policeman patrolling the area now, but where were they when [Lavander] got shot? There's more policemen out than there's ever been," said Ava Temple, 54.

Temple said she was expecting retaliation for the teen's death.

"Someone's going to get hurt," she said.

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