EAST LAKEVIEW — Walking in her Lakeview neighborhood in broad daylight, dog walker Stephanie Howell always felt safe. She often left her cellphone at home, figuring there was no need for it when she was just going around the block.
Since she was attacked on Wednesday, though, Howell hasn't left home without it.
Around noon, Howell was walking a blue pit bull puppy on North Broadway when she first noticed a man between Roscoe Street and Buckingham Place. He was loudly remarking at another woman getting out of her car, and Howell tried to pass by unnoticed.
Instead, the man approached her, held his hands up as if he were brandishing an imaginary shotgun and made a demand.
"B----, give me the dog," she recalled him saying. Howell, 46, of East Lakeview, gripped the leash and tried to move away. He blocked her and moved in closer — too close. When she refused to relinquish the puppy, the man made sexual comments before she pulled out her phone.
"I was not going to let go of that dog. If I would have been carrying a purse and he would have said, 'Give me your purse, I wouldn't have thought twice about that. You can have a purse. But the dog, it would be like if someone came up to me and said, 'Give me your kid.' I'm not going to do that," Howell said.
When she called 911 and began speaking with an operator, the man fled.
"He was so aggressive, I really thought he was going to hurt me, and that's the first time I've ever felt in the city that I was going to be hurt," Howell told DNAinfo Chicago.
When officers responded to the scene, they determined the man had mental health issues, and he was taken to the hospital, police said.
Certainly, Howell knows there are much more serious crimes happening in the city and recognizes she is among its more privileged residents. She said while the incident ranked fairly low on the scale of crime, it was hard to believe it would take place in broad daylight in such a safe neighborhood.
"I'd always been worrying about walking really late at night or early morning. I never thought twice about walking, you know, in the afternoon. But it's urban living. I hate to say that that's the norm, that it's going to happen. But it happens," Howell said.
Since moving to East Lakeview nine years ago, Howell said she's noticed a decline in the visibility of beat police officers on the street.
"I haven't seen a beat cop in years. It might happen more over on Halsted just because there are more bars and more traffic, but I don't see them on Broadway like I used to. If they're around and on the street, folks might be deterred," Howell said.
Ben Berlin, the dog's owner, also said he felt there had been an increase in crime in the area since he moved three years ago. Berlin said he hopes Howell's story will help others become more aware of threats at any time of day.
After 25-year-old Kevin O'Malley was gunned down under the Wellington Brown Line "L" station, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) requested more police officers for weekend nights, as well as a permanent presence at the Belmont 'L' station.
In situations like Howell's, police recommend complying with any demands, with the hopes of limiting any damage to property and avoiding personal harm, said Officer Jose Estrada, a Chicago Police spokesman.
"Keep mental notes of what they look like [and] any unusual characteristics they might have, like a fancy goatee or gym shoes. It can be a very stressful and scary experience, but any detail — no matter how big or how small — can prove invaluable for any follow-up," Estrada said.
Carrying a cell phone is also wise, as victims and witnesses can instantly call 911 and record video — but, Estrada cautions, only if it's safe to do so.
"We never encourage anyone to put themselves at risk. If you're a witness, keep a safe distance and monitor the situation. If you feel threatened or see anything suspicious, even if you're not the victim, by all means, call 911," Estrada said.
After Wednesday's the attack, nearby witnesses also called 911, but Howell said her operator simply told her someone would be dispatched to the area and hung up before getting her name or contact information. Howell said she intends to follow up with police and Tunney's office so they're aware of the situation, but doesn't expect much more.
"Maybe there could be more of a presence here on Broadway in regards to having police around. I recognize the privilege of living in this neighborhood, but everyone should feel safe walking down the street. It doesn't matter if it's Lakeview or Uptown or Englewood. So why do we cut police programs?" Howell said.
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