GREEKTOWN — In his 13 years in food service, Benjamin Parks says he hasn’t seen anything as bad as the crowds attracted by the restaurants that close at 5 a.m. at Jackson Boulevard and Halsted Street.
Parks and his wife Amanda, both 33, live in a condo across the street from the late-night strip.
As a bartender, Parks typically finishes work at 2 or 3 a.m. In the past, he said, it’s been difficult to get to his home due to the crowds and cars often parked in the middle of the streets.
“There’s absolutely no policing going on. It’s like the Wild West out there,” he said.
In the last two years they’ve lived in their condo, Parks and his wife said they’ve seen it all. They’ve watched a woman get punched in the face, seen another woman whipping people with a belt, and witnessed a mob scene of people fighting.
“It was like watching 'Braveheart,' but in the street,” Parks said.
But in just the last two months, they've had to call 911 on several different occasions after witnessing shootings from their back door.
Andy Monk, the property manager for the Parks' condo, said many residents have brought up the shootings at condo association meetings.
But the increase in complaints could be due to the fact that the property only became fully occupied last year, he said.
Since November, there have been at least two shootings near the Jackson-Halsted intersection.
On Nov. 8, around 2 a.m., a man was shot in the back, according to the Chicago Tribune. No arrests were made.
And about 5 a.m. on Dec. 30, the couple called 911 after hearing "at least 30 shots” fired below them on Jackson Boulevard.
“It was the most we’d ever heard,” Amanda Parks said.
Chicago Police Sgt. Rebecca Arguelles, the community officer for beat 1224, said she couldn’t comment on whether patrols had decreased in the area.
She said area police have been working with Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) to come up with a solution to the traffic brought by the 5 a.m. restaurants.
“One of the challenges is, there’s not enough police to baby-sit a street like that,” Burnett said.
Burnett said the restaurants’ late-night hours are contributing to the issue.
“Legally, I can’t do anything to make them scale back on their hours,” he said.
But he said he has been speaking with several of the restaurant owners about taking steps to make things safer.
Pete Vito, owner of the 5 a.m. restaurant Mr. Greek Gyros, 234 S. Halsted St., recently installed security cameras and hired a security guard to deal with late-night troublemakers.
Dean Markellos, who owns the 5 a.m. restaurant Philly’s Best at 769 W. Jackson Blvd., said he wants to hire off-duty police officers to patrol the neighborhood.
He said people loitering near the restaurants — not the late-night hours — are part of what causes the fights.
“You ate, get out,” Markellos said. “Hanging out just leaves the door open for wrong things. Someone says the wrong thing, and then everybody wants to fight.”
Last month, as Markellos was getting ready to close up for the night, a couple backed their car into the front door of his shop.
“That was more of a stupid mistake than anything,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of people who come here at night are perfectly fine.”
Benjamin Parks said he isn’t convinced that extra security will make a difference at the 5 a.m. restaurants.
“Mostly what the security does is push people that are getting troublesome in the shops out onto the street,” he said.
Amanda Parks said she thinks a 2 a.m. curfew for the neighborhood would benefit restaurants and neighbors alike. Benjamin Parks added that with their first baby due in April, the safety of their neighborhood is crucial.
“We don’t want her to get woken up in the middle of the night by gunshots. Or God forbid, something worse,” he said.
The couple said that other than this pocket of crime, they love their neighborhood and want to fight to make it safer.
“It’s a good group of people,” he said of the neighborhood residents. “It’s just during this little window at night time when all the bars are done, and we get these wasted people out there.”
Burnett, along with the Monroe District police, will be at a community meeting about the shootings at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 9 Muses restaurant, 315 S. Halsted St.