EDGEWATER — In 1979, Edgewater was at a turning point, its residents and community leaders were tired of the neighborhood's reputation for arson, crime and slumlords.
News reports from the time cite the area as a "black spot" on the North Side, "plagued" by crime, gangs and dilapidated buildings, particularly throughout the Winthrop-Kenmore corridor running from Lawrence to Devon.
Today, Edgewater is one of the most sought-after beachside communities in the city, with real estate prices skyrocketing by as much as 50 percent in the last year alone.
Indeed, over the past decade crime in the neighborhood (specifically homicide, motor vehicle theft, assault, battery, robbery and burglary) has decreased by 54.47 percent, according to a DNAinfo analysis of city crime data.
That downward trend has stalled since 2015, however, with Edgewater seeing just over a 10 percent spike in those crimes in the first eight months of this year.
Leading the way is a 93 percent jump in motor vehicle thefts, the only type of theft DNAinfo included in its analysis. The Chicago Police Department switched to reporting only felony thefts — those involving $500 or more in stolen property — in 2011.
Other increases include a nearly 70 percent jump in robberies, 37 percent increase in burglaries and 3.9 percent increase in assaults and a 1.84 uptick in batteries.
On Friday, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), an Edgewater native and member of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said he would join other aldermen in calling for additional police to be hired, citing two shootings in the neighborhood over Labor Day weekend — one at Glenwood and Norwood where police recovered shell casings, and another at Clark and Ridge, which left bullet holes along vacant Clark Street storefronts.
In May, 21-year-old Karina Soria-Bautista, a single mom from West Ridge, was shot in the head and killed in front of the Heart 'O' Chicago Motel, where later in July a SWAT team would take a barricaded suicidal man, alive, from inside a room.
A few days before the motel SWAT incident, a man was punched in the face while playing a game on his cell phone before robbers pried it from his hands and ran away, and on Sept. 7, a Loyola student was the victim of a sexual attack while walking near the campus in Edgewater.
"The overwhelming violence across the city has shown us the need for more police to patrol the streets," Osterman wrote to residents in an email. "The City Council is also taking the needed steps to improve the police accountability system in Chicago, which is needed and important to re-establish trust with the police and our communities."
Lynn Pierce, a long-time resident and safety advocate who serves as a liaison between a pocket of northern Edgewater and police, said while adding manpower was "part of the solution ... combating crime is not one-dimensional."
Pierce attributed much of the boost in crime over the last year to what she called the "Laquan McDonald Syndrome" — mistrust in communities toward police that create a "we vs. them" mentality, causing police to hold back on being as aggressive at fighting crime than normal.
As anger directed toward police spread in light of McDonald's shooting by Officer Jason Van Dyke, Pierce said the conditions throughout the city became ripe for crimes to take place and created fear among officers they could be the target of violent acts.
She believes the blame for those conditions is shared between citizens and police.
"It's systemic and it's shared," Pierce said. "I don't think you can single out the police and I don't think you can single out the public."
Another problem Pierce said she encounters is people being reluctant to call 911 or 311 either because they feel there will be an unsatisfactory police response, or because they don't want to be labeled "racist" for profiling law-abiding neighbors.
"There are people who hear gunshots and never call, there are people who call me a week later about an incident," she said. "You don't want to be called a racist, and of course when you are phoning in information one of the things you have to do is identify the race. We're sensitized in the way that we don't want to be called a racist ... it's just extremely difficult."
But the situation has improved from decades ago.
The "crushing blow" to the neighborhood hit in the 1950s and 60s, according to the Tribune.
Patients dealing with mental health issues in nearby hospitals were released and placed in apartments in the area, and although not dangerous themselves, quickly became the target of crime.
The types of apartment buildings constructed and rehabbed over the years, from single-family homes to flats and hotels to courtyard buildings also attracted more singles and transient travelers as opposed to families, the paper reported in 1981.
Further, racial tensions in the neighborhood between black and white residents led to an increased perception of crime and stricter rules over who could rent in the neighborhood.
Former Ald. David Orr (49th), now the Cook County Clerk, called it a "clash of cultures" at the time.
"The whites and blacks are fearful, they don't understand each other's cultures," Orr told the Tribune.
By that time, the early roots of what is today's Community Alternative Policing Strategy, or CAPS, was beginning in Edgewater after a couple living in the Winthrop-Kenmore corridor decided to confront a gang member causing problems in the area.
The surge in crime is still an improvement from 2006, and if looking back one year further to 2005, the area is nearly 60 percent safer today than it was then.
At his annual State of Edgewater breakfast in June, Osterman emphasized crime reduction was his "No. 1" priority and pointed to the continued advocacy of local residents and volunteers over the past 40 years who have helped transform Edgewater's image.
Growing up, he said he remembers streets where businesses "thrive" today were known to be dangerous.
"We are going though a time when we've really focused on reducing the crime in our community," Osterman said in June. "People can walk at night safely down Bryn Mawr, down Thorndale ... when I was a kid that was a scary proposition.
"People worked for 40 years, very, very hard to get to where we are — wasn't dumb luck."
Pierce said she's been involved in those groups, as well as other community-led initiatives since those first days.
The Thorndale Task Force is one of those initiatives Pierce and other neighbors began about nine years ago when the 1100 block of the street was overrun by a gang whose members used the sidewalk to conduct drug deals, drink publicly, start fights and more.
That group began holding positive loitering gatherings where on a nightly basis Pierce said her group would stand directly across from the gang on the sidewalk to show their presence.
Soon, the group started showing up as court advocates for each and every single arrest on the block, a tradition they've kept up for the more serious crimes throughout the neighborhood now that Thorndale has turned around, she said.
It's persistent community involvement, like creating phone trees, calling the police and forming block clubs that has helped make a positive difference in Edgewater over time, Pierce said.
"It took us eight years, but we did it, we reclaimed the block, it can be done," Pierce said. "It takes an extraordinary amount of tenacity, this doesn't happen overnight. And all kinds of factors are involved: mobilizing business owners, and the elected officials and community and business organizations, the block clubs ... it just takes an awful lot of bodies, an awful lot of work and an awful lot of tenacity. But it can be done, we've demonstrated it."
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