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Police, CTA Bring In The Dogs As Crime At Belmont 'L' Station Spikes

By Ariel Cheung | September 21, 2016 6:13am
 With additional canine units heading to the Belmont
With additional canine units heading to the Belmont "L" station, neighbors alarmed by a sharp rise in crime over the past year are feeling "empowered," one said Monday.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — With additional canine units heading to the Belmont "L" station, neighbors alarmed by a sharp rise in crime over the past year are feeling "empowered," one said Monday.

The CTA plans to station a security guard paired with a dog during afternoon and midnight shifts came days after neighbors demanded a tangible response to criminal activity near the heavily trafficked Red, Purple and Brown line station.

"I think we considered it a win for the neighborhood in terms of taking a step in the right direction to deter some of this crime," Elaine Osgood said. Osgood said the agreement was to have police dogs at the station every day from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Osgood heads the Taking Back Lakeview group, which she helped form in April amid growing concern over crime in the area.

Since then, the group has been in nearly constant contact with the alderman, police and residents via its private Facebook page, which is more than 1,000 members strong and still growing.

Founder of Taking Back Lakeview Elaine Osgood (left) chats with Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) ahead of a September CAPS meeting. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

Last week, dozens of members and other neighbors filed into a community policing meeting in an unusual show of force. Much of their concern centered on the Belmont "L" station, a hotbed for neighborhood crime that rivals Wrigleyville and Boystown.

One woman, who declined to give her name, recounted an incident where two dozen people gathered in front of Blackwood Barbecue at Belmont and Sheffield late at night. When a police car arrived, "the officers didn't have to get out of their car," she said. "The people scattered, the police left, and 20 minutes later, the people came back."

Neighbors also challenged the laws allowing late-night bars to stay open until 3-5 a.m. on weekends and asked whether convenience stores like 1000 Liquors and 7-Eleven could be forced to stop selling single servings of alcohol. Some said the beverages like BuzzBalls and tallboys make it easier for customers to drink in public.

"There's crime all the time, but these hardcore crimes are happening at this bewitching hour," said Central Lake View vice president Jeanne Saliture. "The gun crimes, the shootings, those happen at an after-bar type hour — I think we have to get bars and restaurants to cooperate with us."

Others disagreed that overnight hours should be the focus.

"The bar thing is where this all started, but we have it happening during the daylight hours, on the CTA trains," neighbor Marie Poppy said. "The CTA seems to be the express line where all these rabbit holes are coming in and looking for crimes of opportunity in our neighborhood."

In a rare appearance, Cmdr. Robert Cesario detailed recent efforts to rein in crime in Lakeview. The department's organized crime bureau recently investigated a series of drug deals near Belmont and Sheffield — not far from the scene of a reported drug-related shooting in August.

Nine were arrested in the sting, including four known gang members, Cesario said. Despite that, Cesario said the area "is not considered a gang conflict area."

"We don't believe they're in the area to recognize territory," he said. "We believe they're coming to the area because of the bars and the taverns."

Officer Tom Walsh (left), CAPS Sgt. Mary Hein and Cmdr. Robert Cesario discuss crime statistics in the 1933 beat of the Town Hall District on Sept. 13. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

In addition, teams dedicated to robbery and burglary prevention have been assigned to beats experiencing increases in crimes, which the district monitors daily, the commander said.

Lakeview neighbors have grown increasingly riled by a sudden spike in crime in 2016 after a decade of generally falling numbers. Major crimes could see the steepest rise in 13 years without a change this year.

After slamming the police department for dropping manpower in the district — also known as the 19th — Alds. Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th) agreed to last year's property tax hike in part to get more officers in their neighborhoods.

Since the 19th District merged with the 23rd in 2012, the combined area that includes Lakeview and parts of Uptown, North Center, Lincoln Park and Lincoln Square lost almost 140 officers. It hit a low of 330 officers in September 2015 — one month before the property tax vote.

The Belmont "L" station, pictured here after the 2015 Pride Parade, has been zeroed in on as a hotbed for criminal activity that neighbors want quelled. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

In the 10 months following, the Town Hall District has added 36 officers to its ranks as of Sept. 1, leaving three months to secure the final seven the aldermen promised.

While not part of the Chicago Police Department, the canine units at the Belmont station are another sign of progress, officials said.

Security dogs and guards working for the CTA are placed throughout the transit system, but largely focused on the 24-hour Blue and Red lines, said Mike Kozlar, head of CTA security services.

Most of the canines are retired police or military dogs and "by and large, there as a deterrent," Kozlar said. While the guards can detain people, they must wait for Chicago police to respond and make the arrest.

Still, Osgood said she was satisfied with the CTA dogs just sending a message to riders considering criminal activity.

"Right now Lakeview doesn't look safe," Osgood said. "There's that presence and perception. I think a canine unit sends the message that we're buckling down and you have to watch yourself."

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