LAKEVIEW — Town Hall district police are echoing Ald. Tom Tunney's call for neighborhood groups to help pitch in with private security to bolster public safety, adding that the district is short-handed for officers due to more serious crimes happening across the city.
"If everybody just does a little more, it'll be a little better. We ask the officers [to do] the same — every little bit is going to help," district Capt. Bill Looney said at a community policing meeting Wednesday.
When asked what neighbors could do to help, Looney told them to “organize somehow among yourselves with block clubs. Join organizations. There’s a ton of community organizations, tons of chambers if you’re involved with businesses.” Irma Perres organizes block clubs in the district as its Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy community organizer.
The police captain said "eventually something has to be done in the neighborhood, between the whole community and the bars."
"No matter how many people we put out there, we're outnumbered by the people drinking in the area. We have too many bars in too short an area, and it's not really a good community area anymore," Looney said.
Northalsted Business Alliance already provides up to a dozen security guards on summer weekends, with 20 on hand for the annual Pride Parade.
"They’re the only area in the city so far to put up their own money to help. Mostly other ones say, ‘Too bad, you’re on your own’ for Clark Street, Belmont, that area," Looney said.
While recent summer weeks have seen an uptick in robberies and burglaries, totals for the year-to-date are mostly lower than 2014 on Lakeview's north side, Officer Tom Walsh said at the Wednesday community policing meeting.
Still, the extra help is needed district-wide as officials press the city for more officers with little hope of results.
"You guys are really short-handed for all the calls you get. We just don't have as much of a police presence as we used to, and we need more than ever before," one woman said at the meeting.
Times are tough, with 22 Chicago Police districts "all digging into the same pot for officers," and the Town Hall District remains safer than others, making it less of a priority, Looney said.
"When other areas have more people actually shot, they get the extra police officers," he added. While only one person has been killed in Lakeview this year, Uptown has had 10 homicides, although some are in the 20th District.
The 19th District, also known as Town Hall, encompasses all of Lakeview, plus parts of Uptown, Lincoln Square, Lincoln Park and North Center.
The overnight shift, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., is staffed the highest, police said Wednesday. Between 30-50 officers are staffed for each shift, with additional officers on tactical, entertainment, school or robbery teams.
As of August, the district had 333 officers assigned to the area, according to police data obtained by the anonymously run Crime in Wrigleyville + Boystown blog.
But that number includes at least 50 officers who are "detailed out" to other districts, Looney explained. Those officers retain their 19th District assignments with hopes of eventually returning to the relatively safe North Side, meaning they are not replaced no matter how long they are detailed out, he said.
The number of detailed out officers from the district has almost tripled since October 2011, from 19 to 57 in July 2014, according to Chicago Police data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In comparison, the 18th District to the south — which includes the Near North Side and Lincoln Park south of Fullerton Avenue — remained at 42 officers detailed out from 2011 to July 2014.
Public safety ranks low on the priority list for the four Lakeview area chambers, while large portions of annual budgets are spent on public way aesthetics, customer attraction and personnel. All four are required to get city approval for Special Service Area spending of property tax dollars.
Since 2012, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce has budgeted $4,000 total for public safety, according to city data. Northalsted spent an estimated $149,171 over four years.
Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce and Central Lakeview Merchants Association poured money into public safety this year, increasing their budgets tenfold to $61,500 and $25,600, respectively.
None of the chambers returned requests for comment.
Neighbors noticed the impact staff cuts have had on police call response times.
"The problem is, what are we to do for 4½ hours when there are no police available?" asked Sue Leibowitz.
Looney said officers are still on hand to respond to urgent situations like a burglary in progress. The Chicago Police Department changed its 911 responses in 2013, ending immediate responses to calls without a suspect on scene or a victim in immediate danger.
The captain also warned neighbors not to rely too heavily on what they hear on police scanners, because it tells an incomplete story.
"We don't do everything on the radio, because people are listening to the radio," including offenders, Looney said. There are even times when police will misstate how close they are to a crime scene to give themselves a better chance of catching a criminal unaware, he said.
But such tactics can misrepresent how quickly officers respond.
"Sometimes, we're our own worst enemy," Looney said.
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