DUNNING — To hear many of the aldermanic candidates who ran for office earlier this year tell it, violent crime is out of control across the Far Northwest Side, threatening property values and residents' piece of mind.
But shootings are nearly unheard of across the Far Northwest Side — with Edison Park and Forest Glen recording no shootings since 2010, a DNAinfo Chicago analysis found.
The perception that violent crime is on the rise in the Dunning, Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Forest Glen, Norwood Park, O'Hare and Edison Park community areas is false — and police and elected officials said they are powerless to convince residents their chances of being caught in the crossfire common to many other Chicago neighborhoods is slim to none, in part because of social media.
"The perception is way out of whack," said Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th). "I get frustrated with that all the time."
DNAinfo analyzed data since 2010, finding that more than 14,000 people have been shot in Chicago and more than 2,000 of them dying from their wounds.
The shootings disproportionately occur in several parts of the city, with periods of relative calm and spikes of violence coming and going.
The data analyzed by DNAinfo was compiled through a combination of Freedom of Information Act requests to the Chicago Police Department along with DNAinfo's own record keeping.
Several of the candidates Sposato defeated to win the 38th Ward seat in February said much more needs to be done to keep Far Northwest Side residents safe — and demanded that additional officers be assigned to the Far Northwest Side.
In the 41st Ward, former Chicago firefighter Anthony Napolitano's victorious campaign against Ald. Mary O'Connor promised to assign more officers to neighborhoods like Edison Park, where he said he no longer felt safe leaving his wife home alone with his three children while on duty.
In the 39th Ward, Ald. Margaret Laurino barely avoided a runoff against former Forest Glen Community Club President Robert Murphy. Blaming people's fear of crime for her thin margin of victory, Laurino promised to be more responsive to concerns about public safety.
There are no gang turf battles or open-air drug markets anywhere in the Jefferson Park Police District, which covers all of the Far Northwest Side, Cmdr. Roger Bay said. Those are the main causes of violence on the South and West sides of the city, he added.
The district also has enough police — and typically only sends officers out of the districts for major citywide incidents, including the recent celebration of the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory in Lakeview, Bay said.
"There is no huge shortage of officers," Bay said. "Or officers being sent to the West or South Sides. That is another rumor that won't die."
Regardless, nearly every community meeting on the Far Northwest Side — even on unrelated issues — eventually covers concerns about crime, and specifically gang-related shootings and murders.
"It is mostly a perception problem," Bay said, adding that high rates of homeownership means most blocks are stable and home to residents with a vested interest in protecting each other — and their investments.
However, the Far Northwest Side isn't immune from gun violence. Three men were shot Saturday morning while stopped in traffic. Police said one of the wounded men belongs to a gang, as does the vast majority of people injured in shootings in neighborhoods like Portage Park and Jefferson Park.
There have been seven shootings with seven victims in Portage Park through Monday in 2015, and one murder, according to the analysis. In 2014, there were eight shootings with nine victims in Portage Park, the Northwest Side neighborhood with the highest number of gun crimes.
But that does not mean crime is out of control or even on the rise, Bay said. Most are isolated incidents, where gang members have inadvertenly crossed paths, he added.
"One shooting does not mean you should worry and consider selling your house," Bay said.
For example, the murder of 16-year-old Giovanni Mathos, who was shot once in his head at 1 p.m. on March 15 in the 5800 block of Patterson Avenue, shook the residents of that area deeply, Bay said.
Mathos, who Bay said was a gang member, was shot while walking home from a friend's house, Bay said.
"There is a difference between a gang incident and a gang problem," Bay said. "There was a gang incident on that block. That doesn't mean that it is a problematic block."
But news of incidents like that one fuels the incorrect perception that gangs are claiming areas of the Far Northwest Side, Bay said.
There have been no shootings in Edison Park and Forest Glen, which includes Edgebrook and Sauganash, since 2010, according to the data.
In Jefferson Park, which includes Gladstone Park, there has not been a shooting since 2012, according to the data.
In Dunning, there have been four shootings so far this year, after only one last year, according to the data.
In Norwood Park, there have been no shootings since 2013, according to the data.
In O'Hare, there has been one shooting this year, and there was one shooting last year, according to the data.
At a recent meeting about plans to build a $3 million athletic field in Dunning, a resident said she was concerned that it would exacerbate an already terrible gang problem that makes her afraid to walk her dog. Sposato said his attempt to assuage her fears with data from the city fell on deaf ears.
"The fear mongers are out there," Sposato said.
And social media amplifies every crime, making everyone feel like it was right outside their front door, Sposato said.
"This is a safe community, especially compared to the rest of the city," Sposato said. "Of course, we strive for no crime, but is that ever going to happen? No."
Sposato and Bay both blamed social media for inflaming — and inflating — people's fear of crime.
"When you see the same incident, once on Facebook and once on EveryBlock and once on NextDoor, it inundates people," Bay said. "Then rumors start to fly."
Sposato said the news media plays a role, too, by reporting violent incidents and ignoring positive stories.
"It is just negative news all the time," Sposato said.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: