WICKER PARK — Concerns over escalating crime compelled more than 400 Wicker Park, Bucktown and Noble Square residents to pack an auditorium Wednesday night to seek answers from Shakespeare District police, Park District officials and three aldermen.
But some said they left the public safety gathering unsatisfied after not getting assurances that police would boost foot and bike patrols on The 606 elevated park system or bring back a dedicated detail that patrolled the area's bar and late-night entertainment district.
The local police ranks have shrunk from 270 to just under 200 over the past three years, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said. After the meeting, Shakespeare District Police Sgt. Adam Henkels said there are about 190 officers under Cmdr. Fabian Saldana.
"Is the detail to be returned? I would love to reinstate the entertainment detail," Saldana told the crowd in the Pritzker School auditorium 2009 W. Schiller St.
Though the bars near Wicker Park's six-way Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues intersection get a lot of police attention, if the entertainment detail were to return, Saldana said it would also be focused on other bar pockets extending west down Milwaukee Avenue to Kimball Avenue.
"We have 12 beats [in the district], I cannot ignore all other beats," Saldana said.
Saldana said that bringing back the detail is third on his list of priorities, after staffing patrol cars and vacant spots on "tactical teams."
Saldana said that six new officers (two officers in training, two field trainers and two lieutenants) are joining the Shakespeare District, which covers Logan Square and parts of Humboldt Park, Avondale, Wicker Park and Bucktown.
The two officers in training would likely not have their feet on the ground for at least five months, Saldana said.
Beyond those six, Saldana said he's "been promised more are on the way" but does not have further details on when.
Saldana said he has ordered that all officers whose beats touch the 2.7-mile long Bloomingdale Trail must go on the elevated path one time during each shift.
Bo Ramos, a Chicago Park District security manager, said his group has four cars to patrol a few hundred parks and playgrounds north of the Eisenhower Expressway, including the 606 system of five ground-level parks connected by the trail.
"The chances for me to dedicate [patrols] on The 606 are slim to none," Ramos said, though added that in winter he requires his security officers to visit the path once daily and twice in summer.
Waguespack laid some of the blame for the reduced ranks on former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
"He said we weren't going to see a reduction but we did. I think we need more than 40 officers to get back up to what we need and at the same time we are hiring, there are a lot of officers retiring," Waguespack said.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he "welcomes federal assistance," referring to reports of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives mulling a deployment of 20 agents to form a "Chicago Crime Guns Strike Force."
On Thursday, Hopkins wrote a letter to the acting director of the bureau to say that if the plan does happen, the federal troops should consider using offices inside the Cook County Sheriff's Central Warrant headquarters at 937 N. Wood St.
Waguespack differed with Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and Hopkins on whether tax dollars collected by a special tax levy from property owners along commercial streets should be used to pay for private security patrols to augment the police.
"I'm of the opinion that we pay a hell of a lot of taxes and we should have more police officers. We need to be forceful with our mayor and our City Council about hiring more police officers. If we start going down that path, it's a slippery slope of privatizing security," Waguespack said.
Due to a push by Hopkins and Moreno, the Special Service Area No. 33 previously allocated $50,000 in its 2017 budget for safety that must specifically be used on major corridors such as Ashland, Damen, Division, North, Milwaukee and Western.
Hopkins said private security patrols have worked in other parts of his sprawling ward, such as in the Gold Coast. And Moreno pointed out that Lakeview and other neighborhoods have used their commercial district taxpayer funds to pay for private security to augment police.
After the meeting, residents aired complaints.
"As a former FBI Agent, I am confident and clear in saying that the police are underfunded and crime is out of control in Chicago. Meanwhile the aldermen continue to politic and squabble," said Benjamin Thomas Wolf, a Bucktown resident.
Noble Square resident Christine Hutton said that she "felt like there were no answers" to the underlying question of how will crime be tackled.
Early Thursday, Doug Wood, the Wicker Park Advisory Council's events coordinator, said he had wished more time could have been devoted to questions from the public.
"We heard that the funding for park security will allow very infrequent visits to the 606 and neighborhood parks and that city police coverage will also be very limited. These areas draw huge concentrations of population from all over the city," Wood said.
Since Wednesday's event was held in conjunction with the bimonthly Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meeting, there was some attention paid to crime statistics for Beat 1424, which is bordered by North avenue on the north, Division street on the south, Wood Street on the east and Western Avenue on the west.
Officer Gretchen Chavez said from Dec. 7 to Feb. 8, the "Top 10" crimes had seen a rise in thefts, simple batteries, theft from buildings and retailers and six cars stolen.
Officer Tom McNamara said there were 25 recent arrests made, including three shoplifters.