Click on a Safe Passage route above for more information.
BRONZEVILLE — When the school year begins Tuesday, kids attending 140 of the Chicago Public Schools will walk to their buildings along Safe Passage routes.
That's the highest number of schools ever being covered by the district's program, which employs workers hired through outside contractors to make sure kids get to and from school safely.
DNAinfo analyzed crime along 64 Safe Passage routes that were in effect during the 2013-14 school year when the program expanded after the closures of 50 district schools.
The analysis found that crime along those routes between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days dropped 26 percent between the 2012-13 school year and 2014-2015, a number confirmed by the Chicago Police Department's own analysis.
But the bigger success, CPS officials said, is that the kids are safe.
"We're able to say we still haven't had a serious incident involving our students during times that Safe Passage workers are on duty," said Jadine Chou, the district's chief safety and security officer.
"Safety is the goal," Chou added. "When there's less crime, it's just safer."
A Safe Passage route serving Laura Ward Elementary, 646 N. Lawndale Ave. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)
Though changes in some crime such as assaults (including shootings) and homicides aren't significant, others clearly are.
There have been 44 percent fewer drug offenses along routes during the 2014-15 school year compared with 2013-14. Robberies are down 34 percent. Batteries are down 22 percent.
Chou said the expansion of Safe Passage two years ago was done to make sure children who were going to new schools would be safe and "transition easily" to their new ones.
Two years ago, Frances Jones used to walk her now 10-year-old grandson, Jaylan, to Pershing East in Bronzeville, which has since been shuttered and merged into the Pershing West building (now simply Pershing) at 3200 S. Calumet Ave.
Now with both a shorter walk and several other people looking out for Jaylan and his schoolmates, Jones said she has a new routine when her grandson heads to school.
Jaylan's 5-year-old brother, Amouri, will join him this year.
"The neighborly support is there now," Jones said. "I can stand on my porch, watch them walk to the corner and let them go from there. There's so many eyes out there for them now."
The Chicago Teachers Union, which has been vocal in opposing the closures that led to the expansion of Safe Passage, does generally praise how it is run.
"More eyes and bodies on the street watching out for students can’t be a bad idea," union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said, adding that "Safe Passage has always been that it’s a poor alternative for ensuring students have a neighborhood school within their own communities."
But spending money on "eyes" that are powerless to do anything other than call in incidents is misguided, said Jeanette Taylor-Ramann, a critic of Safe Passage who is the Local School Council chairwoman at Bronzeville's Mollison Elementary School.
Taylor-Ramann, a mother of two Mollison students, said money would be better spent on instruction and having people who are more invested in children and safety — parent volunteers and police — do the work instead.
Tanveer Ali discusses the Safe Route data ahead of its expansion:
Last year, CPS spent $24.3 million on school safety services including Safe Passage. It's budgeting $23.3 million this year.
"It is not at all like they said it would be. All the Safe Passage workers can really do is call something in," Taylor-Ramann said. "How safe is it when there are shootings a block away? How safe is it when students are left waiting for the bus?"
Since Safe Passage has gone into effect, violent incidents have occurred along Safe Passage routes, including fatal shootings such as one in November along the Safe Passage route for Sherwood Elementary in Englewood, 245 W. 57th St.
Children have also been victims of crime near Safe Passage routes, one of the most high-profile being the December 2013 rape of a 15-year-old girl in Belmont-Cragin just a block off from the official Safe Passage route serving Northwest Middle School.
That incident led to safety initiatives, including "street safety" classes in neighborhood teaching children how to avoid trouble while walking outside.
Chou said that both school and Safe Passage staff are aware of crime, gang activity and other matters of public safety that occur around the routes whether during school time or not.
"Whenever there is an incident over a Safe Passage route, weekend or early in the morning, the Safe Passage team in the school will work to understand the environment," Chou said.
While the program is expanding to 140 schools this year, it will still employ around 1,300 people, about the same as the previous year, with many of the routes overlapping.
Chou said the major difference this year in the program is "increasing expectations" of having Safe Passage workers build relationships with the students.
"We really want them to build relationships with the students," Chou said. "As you get to know the students, the students will be comfortable and feel safer."
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