PORTAGE PARK — Two daytime shootings Sunday in Portage Park have put residents on edge, leaving them worried that violent incidents are no longer an aberration on the Far Northwest Side.
No one was injured in the two incidents, but Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) said the brazen nature of the gunfire between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday should prompt police commanders to assign more officers to the area and increase patrols.
"People are right to be concerned," Cullerton said. "It was so blatant. We need additional protection until we understand what is going on."
Cullerton and some residents are concerned gangs that operate south of Portage Park may be pushing north in an effort to expand their territory to sell drugs.
"If the Police Department can put officers on overtime in Englewood and Woodlawn, they can put officers on OT up here," Cullerton said, referring to neighborhoods that are among the city's most violent.
The first shooting happened around 3 p.m. when two men driving a truck up and down alleys near Berteau and Menard avenues scavenging metal noticed they were being followed by a light blue van, Cullerton said. After making some evasive turns, the truck pulled out of the alley onto Berteau Avenue only to find its path blocked by the van, Cullerton said.
Someone in the van fired "several" shots at the truck, but neither man inside was hurt, Cullerton said. The van was last seen heading west on Berteau Avenue, he added.
Although the intended victims told police they were not affiliated with a gang, police officials told Cullerton the men were known members of the Latin Brothers street gang.
About three hours later, shots were fired near Irving Park Road and Monitor Avenue, just blocks away from the first shooting, Cullerton said. No one was hit, and the alderman said police commanders could not provide more information.
Jefferson Park Police District Cmdr. James O'Donnell, whose district includes Portage Park, did not respond to a request for information about the shootings.
A 14-year resident of the neighborhood, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, said the shootings were clearly part of a trend of gang violence spilling over from the Grand Central Police District to the south.
"Honesty on the part of the police is essential," the longtime resident said, adding that police officials often have downplayed violence in Portage Park.
There are too few police officers on the Far Northwest Side to act as a deterrent to crime, the resident said. Instead, they are forced to react after a flurry of incidents, he added.
Cullerton will host a meeting with O'Donnell to discuss the shootings at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at Portage Park Elementary School, 5330 W. Berteau Ave.
A similar meeting was held in February after two shootings — one fatal — prompted a community outcry.
At that meeting, Cullerton and O'Donnell said no gangs operated within the Jefferson Park Police District, but that violent incidents sometimes occur when gang members, who live here because it is a safe area, encounter rivals.
"Our presence at the meeting will send a message that we need more police in this area," Cullerton said, adding that he would welcome more patrols, even temporarily. "It is pretty obvious that we need additional coverage."
Elsewhere in the city, two people were shot to death Sunday.
Despite the violence, police said citywide shootings were down 22 percent and murders were down 26 percent year to date from last year.
The most recent spate of shootings in Portage Park began Aug. 10, when two men were wounded while walking in the 5800 block of Irving Park Road. At least one of the men belonged to a gang, Cullerton said.
The next day, a 4-year-old girl and two others were shot and injured when a gunman pulled up next to her family's car and sprayed it with bullets near Irving Park Road and Central Avenue, near Portage Park.
On Aug. 21, a woman was beaten, bitten and robbed around 6 a.m. near Narragansett and Cuyler avenues. A man has been arrested in connection with the crime after being identified by the victim, Cullerton said, but a Police Department spokesman said he could not provide more information.
Police said the shootings on Aug. 10 and Aug. 11 were an aberration in an otherwise safe area of the city, Cullerton said.
"But now, it is hard to explain this as an anomaly," Cullerton said. "It is very unusual. It is very disconcerting."