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Portage Park is Still Safe Despite Recent Shootings, Police Tell Residents

By Heather Cherone | September 10, 2013 8:03am
  Crime is down three percent in Portage Park this year as compared with 2012, police said.
Portage Park is Still Safe, Police Commander Reassures Residents
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PORTAGE PARK — Despite four shootings in two weeks, Portage Park is still one of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago, police officials told a packed school auditorium Monday night.

Worries that violent incidents are no longer an aberration on the Far Northwest Side peaked after two daytime shootings Aug. 25, two weeks after a 4-year-old girl was wounded near Portage Park.

However, the shootings were the first gang-related violence in Portage Park in seven months, Jefferson Park Police District Cmdr. James O'Donnell.

"You have to look at the big picture," O'Donnell said.

At the standing-room only meeting, Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) renewed his call for more officers to be assigned to Portage Park, and said he had a commitment from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to send at least one additional patrol car to the "hot zone" around Irving Park Road and Central Avenue.

"People are scared, people are angry," Cullerton said. "They want to know where their police are."

Since Jan. 1, major crime — including robberies, burglaries, sexual assaults and aggravated batteries — in Portage Park is down 3 percent, O'Donnell said.

However, crime citywide is down 15 percent, according to Chicago Police Spokesman Adam Collins.

In the last six weeks, major crime is down 17 percent, O'Donnell said.

Two men were wounded while walking Aug. 10 in the 5800 block of Irving Park Road. One was a member of the Latin Kings who had been arrested nearly three dozen times, O'Donnell 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 itself.

"It was a case of mistaken identity," O'Donnell said. "No one in that car was affiliated with a gang."

Since those shootings, a "saturation team" was assigned to patrol Portage Park. The police department has also used the teams in other parts of the city to respond to outbreaks of violence.

In addition, six probationary officers and their three training officers are now assigned to the Jefferson Park Police District, as well as additional detectives, O'Donnell said.

Several Portage Park residents at the meeting said they were concerned the shootings are part of a trend of gang violence spilling over from the Grand Central Police District to the south as gangs that operate south of Portage Park push north in an effort to expand their territory to sell drugs.

There are between 40 and 50 documented gang members in the Jefferson Park Police District, most members of La Familia Stones or the Latin Kings.

"That's not many, as compared to other parts of the city," O'Donnell said. "There is no gang territory in Portage Park, no open-air drug markets. That's because of community participation and aggressive policing."