WICKER PARK — The new commander of the police district that covers parts of West Town, the West Loop, Pilsen, Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park wants residents to know: He doesn't want teenaged gang members to run their lives.
"There are a lot of good people that just want to barbecue on their porch. How can a 17- or 18 year-old kid dictate what adults do?" asked new Near West Side District Cmdr. Ed Kulbida at a meeting with community groups.
"We can solve these gang problems. Maybe I'm living in a dream world."
Kulbida was sent to the Near West Side in April as part of a command staff shakeup. He had been an executive officer in the Englewood District before that.
Alisa Hauser says there were skeptics in the sparse crowd:
He was also in the news in October when he suffered a gunshot wound to the head while on duty. He returned to work in December, and in May was honored with the District's "Top Cop" award for his outstanding service.
On Friday, he met with local residents at a sparsely attended community meeting.
Held in Presence St. Mary's Auditorium, 1127 N. Oakley Ave., the gathering drew 11 people, including two reporters. Kulbida said he wished he was talking to 50 people. The event was not a Chicago Alternative Policing (CAPS) meeting, though a volunteer facilitator from CAPS was there, too.
After talking about gang issues, an attendee asked what Kulbida and his team can do to help solve gang problems. Treating gang members with respect, he responded, as well as offering social services to their families and having police become more of regular presence in neighborhood, such as playing basketball with kids, is part of the plan.
"You get respect if you give respect," Kulbida said.
Headquartered on the border of Little Italy and Pilsen at 1412 S. Blue Island Ave., the Near West District was formed in a 2012 cost cutting. It's bounded by Division Street to the north, Cermak Road to the south, the Dan Ryan Expressway to the east and Kedzie Boulevard to the West.
Among the highlights of the 45-minute long gathering, Kulbida, who was joined by Sgt. Juan Clas and a Near West beat patrol officer, said he wants the local police "to become more open and to become partners with you."
He told the group that not all arrests start with police, they come from tips from people in neighborhoods watching, including neighbors who, like his mother, sit in their window and know everything going on on their blocks.
Kulbida also said, "Right now it's not a very popular occupation [to be an officer] but there's a lot of good people doing a a lot of good things."
Over the past weekend, the Near West District had two fests, one with tens of thousands of revelers, which caused Kulbida to do some "juggling" of beat officers. Kulbida said there are so many fests in the Near West District that he even canceled his summer vacation.
Overseeing a staff of 329 officers, including around 15 who are trained for bike patrols, Kulbida said the Near West Police District is among the most densely populated of the city's 24 police districts.
"I felt good. It's always good to meet your commander. We had a good relationship with the commander before and shared key fobs, but it seems as if things have fallen through cracks. We want to see what happened to key fobs," Mabwa said, referring to the electronic devices that permit entry to a building.
Community by Oakley Square has some 568 residents plus 200 children. Mabwa said Kulbida's predecessor, Cmdr. Melissa Staples, who was reassigned to an executive officer post in April, worked closely with Mabwa.
Kulbida told Mabwa to set up a one on one meeting with him by calling his secretary at the District headquarters.
As for the next informal "not CAPS meeting" with Kulbida, when asked when it will be, Kulbida said sometime in the fall.
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