ROGERS PARK — Residents on the North Side say they're worried the apparent removal of security guards at some of Chicago's parks would attract drug dealing and gang violence in places that should be a "safe haven" for children.
Community members living near Willye B. White Park on Howard Street said the field house's security guard, who would keep watch over the building's front door and desk, had been yanked by the Chicago Park District.
The move, which has also been reported at Uptown's Clarendon Park, led members of Willye White's advisory council to plead with the park district board last week to reinstate the security detail.
"The front desk near the door is now unmanned, leaving the building open for drug dealers, gang bangers and others displaying anti-social behaviors to enter into the building and linger within," council member Eva McCann testified.
McCann said the loss of the security guard would compromise safety at the park, "located in an area with many challenges."
"And to many, the Willye White building and its programs are the only safe haven they have after school and away from home," she added.
After her statement, the commissioners went into closed session and didn't appear to discuss the concerns.
A Park District spokeswoman hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment regarding the apparent far-reaching changes in park security.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said the director of the district's security told him the security guards at Willye White and Pottawattomie Park nearby would be "reinstated" by mid-May.
"I'm not entirely sure why [the guards were] withdrawn in the first place, but I suspect it has something to do with conserving resources for the warm months when the security is most needed," Moore said in an email Wednesday. "The bottom line for me is that we're getting security back at both parks."
Yet other residents say security is needed now to maintain peace.
"Without that being a secure location, how can we ensure our safety?" said Bill Morton, president of Willye White Park's advisory council. "We’ve had [many] issues over there on that corner."
Morton said the park's security guard would be on duty during open recreation times and would shoo away loiterers.
"Now without the security guard, we have a fear that maybe it won’t be as safe," he said. "It’s just unacceptable to not have security in place at that particular location — public safety should always come first."
Toni Duncan, a CAPS beat facilitator for the Howard Street area, said the removal of the guard would be a "recipe for danger," especially as weather warms.
She pointed to the case of Blake Lamb, a 22-year-old man who was shot to death outside the field house last summer, as an example of what could go wrong.
"Since Blake Lamb’s murder, the police have been very active patrolling the area, but it’s not their job to patrol [inside] the parks," she said.
She said the park supervisor, Jerry Wallace — who declined to comment Wednesday — did his best to run the park's programs while keeping unsavory characters out of the field house.
"And we need to support that," Duncan said.
Contributing: Adeshina Emmanuel, Lizzie Schiffman