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Drinking in Public, Battery, Strong-arm Robberies on Rise in Wicker Park

By Alisa Hauser | August 15, 2013 12:35pm
 Several violation tickets were issued for drinking in the public way, officers said at a Wicker Park community police meeting Wednesday.  
Several violation tickets were issued for drinking in the public way, officers said at a Wicker Park community police meeting Wednesday.  
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK —  Summer might be nearing its end, but the latest statistics from the past two months show that drinking and urination in the streets, simple battery and strong-arm robberies were all problems in Wicker Park.

The news was shared in a sparsely attended community police meeting Wednesday in the Wicker Park field house at 1425 N. Damen Ave.

Residents at the gathering voiced concerns to cops about open alcohol in the park during Movies in the Park and "gutter punks."

Neighborhood resident Steve Jensen complained of people relieving themselves in public.

"They're sleeping in Wicker Park, Walsh and Churchill Park, they're infesting the entire neighborhood," he said.

The band of traveling, homeless youths who visit Wicker Park during the summer months are often called rail riders, travelers and gutter punks.

Volunteer CAPS beat 1424 facilitator Mark Amundson said the homeless travelers are "a new part of the American landscape we are in, they have decided to leave home and see the country on a wing and a prayer."

A fight over the weekend, which sent a 31-year-old homeless man to the hospital, erupted after a verbal altercation sparked by a gutter punk who was urinating in the park's bushes.

Teddy Varndell, a local resident, took issue with Movies in the Park, a summer-long event that brings thousands of people to the park, which is under-staffed, according to Our Urban Times.

"Where were you for Movies in the Park? It was wall-to-wall people drinking everywhere," Varndell asked the officers.

Jensen requested that police "walk through the crowd in uniform," to discourage drinking at the outdoor movies.

Sgt. Joseph Giambrone told the group that the police are "working on a plan for the rail riders and Movies in the Park," but did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Felipe Reyes cited statistics from June 5 through August 14 on a beat bordered by North Avenue on the north, Division Street on the south, Wood Street on the east and Western Avenue on the west.

Theft dominated the top 10 crimes for Beat 1424, with 33 thefts reported between June 5 and August 14, as compared to 30 during the previous two-month period (April 11- June 5).

Simple battery more than doubled from the previous period, with 29 recent instances as compared to 12 during the previous two month period.

Criminal damage to vehicles also doubled, with 16 reports, as compared to six in the prior period.

Strong-arm robberies tripled, with 11 reports up from 4 in the prior period, Reyes said. 

Reyes said the majority of strong arm robberies occurred near the CTA Damen "L" stop, with six of the 11 reports in the 1500 block of North Damen Avenue.

For Beat 1424, there were 62 arrests made during a two-month period from June 5-August 14.

Of the 62 arrests made, 14 were considered "impact arrests," which are involving issues of concern to residents of an area packed with nightclubs and plagued with graffiti.

Around 2 a.m. Aug. 7, officers arrested two taggers who were observed defacing a building in an alley in the 1200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue.

Gerardo Hernandez, 20, of the 2700 block of North Milwaukee Avenue and Frederick Prinz, 19, of the 2600 block of North St. Louis Avenue were both charged with misdemeanor of criminal defacement to property.

Police also said there were more than 40 "administrative notices of violation," or citations issued for a litany of offenses in violation of city ordinances during the two-month period.

While administrative notices are not investigated, filed or prosecuted by the city, the tickets serve as warnings.

Giambrone said the majority of notices were for drinking in the public way, with 10 of the violations occurring in Wicker Park itself.

The majority of the other public consumption violations were due to folks "drinking on sidewalk patios in front of bars after hours," Giambrone said.

About a dozen total warnings were issued for aggressive panhandling, riding bicycles on sidewalks, peddling without a license and broadcasting loud sounds.

In the past two weeks alone, there were also nine public urination violation notices issued in the 14th District beat, bounded by Division Street to the south, Belmont Avenue on the North, the Chicago River on the East and Central Park Avenue on the West.