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Norwood Park Shooting Renews Call For More Cops: 'We're On Our Own Here'

By Alex Nitkin | November 17, 2016 5:38am
 A 33-year-old man was reported shot during an attempted robbery Monday evening, police said.
A 33-year-old man was reported shot during an attempted robbery Monday evening, police said.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

NORWOOD PARK — Residents near the Harlem Blue Line station in Norwood Park were racked with questions this week after a 33-year-old man was reported shot during an attempted robbery on Monday.

Namely, they wondered whether it happened at all.

No one reported hearing gunshots around 8 p.m. Monday, the time the man claimed to have been shot in his hand while trying to thwart an armed robbery in the 7300 block of West Higgins Avenue, police said.

Moreover, multiple residents with security cameras said they spooled through their footage and found no sign of the robber or his victim.

The 33-year-old had shown up at Resurrection Medical Center with a gunshot wound in his hand, police said. He was listed in good condition.

The incident remains under investigation.

Though doubts remain over how the incident unfolded, the reported shooting — just Norwood Park's sixth since Jan. 1, 2010 — ratcheted up tension in a community troubled by a sharp uptick in both violent and petty crime this year.

Robberies were reported 162 times in the Jefferson Park police district between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, compared to just 119 during the same period in 2015, according to city data. Meanwhile, 368 motor vehicle thefts were reported in the district through October 2016, up from 290 the previous year.

It's been a noticeable shift for Patty Culliton, who lives in the 5500 block of North Octavia Avenue, around the corner from Monday's reported shooting.

"This is supposed to be the safest neighborhood in the city, but we've started to see a real change in attitude," said Culliton, who's lived on the block for 44 years. "This is the first time I've ever really been scared just to cross the street."

In August, Culliton caught a man and woman trying to rummage through her car, part of a rash of thefts, she said. Months earlier, her neighbor was mugged as she got off the Blue Line.

Just as quickly as Culliton and her neighbors have sensed the growing problem, she said, they've identified a clear reason for it.

"There always used to be a [Chicago Police] patrol sitting right there, across the street," she said, pointing toward the Blue Line station. "Now, you call 911 and they're coming from all the way across the district. They're just not staffed up the way they're supposed to be."

Spanning 36 square miles from the Six Corners Shopping District to O'Hare Airport, the Jefferson Park District is the city's largest. Fewer than 200 officers cover the area, which Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) called "laughable."

"We haven't seen any real influx in new officers since 2011 — there was this idea that we could get the same amount done with less," Napolitano told DNAinfo. "That idea has been proven wrong, and now, four or five years later, we're living with the consequences."

On Tuesday, the leader of a national police union blamed staffing shortages for surging crime all over the city, saying Mayor Rahm Emanuel should "ultimately bear the brunt of the blame for things that have gone wrong with public safety in Chicago," according to the Sun-Times.

This year's historic spike in citywide crime has seen shootings and assaults become commonplace in many neighborhoods typically considered safe. That includes Norwood Park, where the slaying of 17-year-old Anthony Heatherly sent shockwaves through the community in April.

In June, Napolitano and his fellow aldermen on the Far Northwest Side demanded reinforcements from Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, coaxing the top cop to commit 20 more officers to the district by the end of the year.

City leaders have sent 10 new officers to the district so far, Napolitano said, and he expects the trickle of new bodies to continue.

"The truth is, we just do not have enough coppers in this district," Napolitano said. "It should never have gotten to this point. But now we're going to fix it."

On Wednesday, the City Council passed a 2017 budget including $60 million to hire 250 new officers, 92 new field-training officers, 100 new detectives, 37 new sergeants and 50 new lieutenants.

Until the surge arrives, Culliton and her neighbors in Norwood Park may be left fending for themselves, they said.

Karla Albanese, who lives across the street from Culliton, keeps a security system and cameras perched in front of her home.

"It's widely known that there's no real police presence in this area, and that makes us targets," Albanese said. "So we're all watching now, and we're policing our own neighborhood. We're on our own here."

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