LAKEVIEW — A North Side police district covering Lakeview and parts of surrounding neighborhoods lost more than 100 cops after two districts merged, spurring a local aldermanic candidate to start a petition demanding the city return manpower.
The 19th, or Belmont, and 23rd, or Town Hall, police district employed 463 people all together before they merged, according to police spokesman Adam Collins. After the two merged as part of a city cost-cutting measure, the area encompassing Lakeview and parts of Uptown, Lincoln Park and North Center lost more than 100 officers, according to Collins.
The new Town Hall Police district now has 356 officers, representing a 21 percent decrease.
Neighbors have been demanding more officers in the neighborhood for months, including starting a petition in August that asked for more cops and more accountability for businesses and social services.
Businessman Mark Thomas, owner of The Alley and a candidate for alderman of the 44th ward, started his own petition Tuesday focusing only on returning the Town Hall Police District to its old numbers.
Thomas said the petition doesn't have to do with his recent campaign announcement. Rather, it's about needing more cops in Lakeview to combat crime and pushing residents to demand them, he said.
Thomas's staffing numbers, which he said came from the Fraternal Order of Police, are at odds with the city's figures. In his petition, Thomas says 299 officers remain in the district, marking a 35 percent decrease.
"This is just me doing what I've done for 30 years. I'm stirring up the s--- because something's wrong," Thomas said.
Though crime worries are up, actual crime is down 24 percent in the district, according to Collins.
"While district 19 is down 24 percent in overall crime and has seen reductions in almost every crime category, there's more work to be done and we will continue our partnership with the community until we reach the ultimate goal of no crime," he said in an email statement.
Thomas brushed off the difference between the petition's number and police numbers. It's insignificant compared to the main problem, he said — more people feel unsafe in the neighborhood than before.
And Thomas argued that part of the reason crime is down is because people are becoming too disillusioned to even report offenses to the police, a sentiment that other neighbors have repeated at community meetings.
"People are frustrated," he said.
The number of police officers became a city-wide issue last week when Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy estimated $93 million in overtime spending for 2013, triple the budgeted amount. McCarthy said it cost less to pay overtime than to hire more cops.
The spending was highly criticized by the police union and aldermen, who said it was mismanaged and short-sighted. More officers, they said, would save more money and make the city safer in the long-term.
In Lakeview, Town Hall Police Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris said at a commuity meeting earlier this year he "absolutely" wants more officers, but added "I don't think there's any district commander in this city who doesn't want more officers."
"Every single community wants more officers," he said. "Honestly and frankly, I have to deal with what I have."
As of Tuesday evening, 888 people had signed the Lakeview crime petition that has been up since late August.
Thomas said his petition was sent out to a targeted email list about 20,000 and could bring in more numbers. On Tuesday evening, 162 people had signed after about five hours of being live.
Though he said his petition is not about the election, it does reflect one of his main goals if he is elected: Encouraging people to use the Internet as a way to interact with politicians.
Once people hear the number of officers Lakeview has, they'll start talking to each other and to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and the mayor, Thomas said. People can start seeing the power in numbers, he said.
"I'm trying to get people pissed off so they'll start talking to their elected officials," he said.