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Wicker Park 'Gutter Punks' Will Be Watched Closely This Summer, Police Say

By Emily Morris | April 21, 2014 8:22am
 One rail rider was hanging out in a Wicker Park trash can last week.
One rail rider was hanging out in a Wicker Park trash can last week.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — A traveling group of homeless "rail riders" or "gutter punks" that set up camp in Wicker Park in the summer are back — and residents want to make sure the violence they saw last summer doesn't return with them.

“Obviously we had some issues last summer," Wicker Park Advisory Council President Adam Housley said to concerned residents at a community meeting late last week. "Somebody got shot in the park and other random things with the rail riders."

Those issues included a violent attack in August by one "rail rider" who admitted to beating up a man inside the park as well as another incident in which a man allegedly exposed himself.

There were also two separate fatal shootings in the neighborhood before summer's end. After Emmanuel Bass was shot inside the park and Miguel Delgado was hit along Milwaukee Avenue last September, police said they increased foot patrols in the area.

"Ninety-nine percent of what happens in our park and our neighborhood is fantastic," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st). "We are in an urban area that is by the Blue Line. It’s going to unfortunately attract some nefarious elements."

Patrick Levar, chief operating officer for the Chicago Park District, said more cameras are being installed at the park along with a monitor inside the field house.

Nine new cameras with DVR capability are being installed in addition to the two that are currently in place, according to the park district.

GPS will also be added to security cars so the park district can monitor patrols. The park district hopes the added technology will provide more information about crime hot spots and gang issues in real time.

Advisory council secretary Doug Wood said he would like to see additional security over the weekend. Currently, the park has daytime security four days a week, which will increase to five days during the summer.

But in general, Wood said additional cameras could help prevent a repeat of last summer's violence.

"Every year the whole neighborhood, not just the park, [has a] better understanding of curbing the problems with the rail riders," Wood said.

Sgt. Joseph Giambrone said that police have gone to the parks before closing time to warn anyone inside to leave and have issued about 30 violations in the past two months to those who stuck around.

"We have been taking proactive steps in the park," Giambrone said.

Resident Joe Vallee said he hopes that the new cameras will allow security to take a look at the problems, but that the biggest way to combat the problems is with officers on the ground.

"Their presence here is the biggest thing," Vallee said.

Wood said the most important thing is that residents step up and report any incidents as they happen.

"If you don’t do it then it won’t get done," Wood said. "Everyone needs to work together. That’s what security is all about."