WICKER PARK — A group of police officers who patrolled Wicker Park's bar and entertainment district in the late night/early morning hours was disbanded earlier this month, and it has upset some residents in light of a stabbing early Thursday in front of a tavern at 1540 N. Milwaukee Ave.
"Given the recent crime uptick in Wicker Park, this is ludicrous," said Leah Root, former president of the Wicker Park Committee, a neighborhood group.
Formed in 2003, the eight-member Wicker Park Entertainment Detail — part of the Shakespeare District spanning Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square and Avondale — was discontinued June 5, police said.
Officer Nicole Trainor, a Chicago Police spokeswoman, confirmed the reassignments for the officers, who were tasked with patrolling bars and venues in Wicker Park's main hub along Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues as well as Division Street, Ashland and Armitage avenues.
Trainor, who said she spoke with interim Shakespeare District Cmdr. Fabian Saldana, emphasized that the detail was "not being disbanded."
"But the officers are being reassigned to a different shift. The officers are REMAINING in the ... district and will be working on the First Watch. This shift of personnel allows for greater flexibility with start times, and will allow officers to patrol a larger vicinity of the district (INCLUDING the entertainment district). The Commander assured us that officers will be doing a minimum of two sweeps a night in the entertainment district, and will provide additional support if necessary," Trainor wrote in an email.
The First Watch has a split start time, with some officers beginning their shift at 9:30 p.m. and others at 10:30 p.m., Our Urban Times reported in a post that described the new staffing shift as providing more flexibility to the entire district.
According to a 2015 report, the detail devoted extra attention to "impact arrests," such as DUIs, drug possession, graffiti and other problems, as well as more mundane tasks like "clearing out" Wicker Park's namesake park each night at 11 p.m., a routine preceded by flashing lights and a bullhorn announcing — in English and Spanish — that people need to leave the park.
The Police Department's Office of News Affairs was unable to confirm the total number of officers who work in the Shakespeare District ("Unfortunately, we don't have the numbers handy. We don't normally disclose those numbers to the media") but several police sources estimated it to be around 225.
Root, who posted a flier titled "Bring Back the Wicker Park Detail" on an online Neighborhood Watch Facebook page, said the loss of the detail was unacceptable.
"Crime is going up in Wicker Park, and summer just started. We need more cops on the streets, not less. Wicker Park is home to a major entertainment district with many 4 and 5 a.m. bars.
"We had the police detail since 2003 for a reason. Getting rid of eight officers and four cars that were assigned to this area is a bad thing," Root said.
Brad Parker, owner of Mahalo, a new restaurant at 1501 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the heart of the Wicker Park bar and restaurant district, said that he would like to see the detail reinstated.
"The diversity on Milwaukee Avenue is amazing and brings something special to the neighborhood. People want to feel safe and be safe while they stroll out on a nice summer night to grab ice cream or a cocktail. But there are a few bad eggs in the neighborhood that make that hard without a good presence of police. I'm worried to see what happens," Parker said.
"I don't see how removing police is a good thing," he said.
Screenshot from Wicker Park Neighborhood Watch Facebook Page [Leah Root]