LINCOLN PARK — The Town Hall District police commander tried to reassure Lincoln Park residents that crime is actually down from years past at a public safety forum Monday, but some local residents weren't having it after a series of local high-profile rapes and robberies.
"We're afraid," Kara Castaneda said after telling the story of her husband falling victim to an armed carjacking in October. "We're scared to live here."
"Crime is trending down," insisted Cmdr. Marc Buslik. "From my perspective, the data says we're doing good."
He granted, however, that the perception that crime was increasing was something the Police Department had to work on.
Buslik immediately tried to defuse concerns over a brutal rape over the weekend in Lincoln Park. He said authoritatively that it was not connected to a recent pair of attacks in Lakeview, although he added that it was "a better-than-even chance" that those two rapes were the work of the same offender.
Calling those Lakeview incidents "incredibly unusual" and "extremely rare," Buslik said they were the work of a "predator" unlike any he'd ever seen.
While he added he hoped they were closing in on a suspect through DNA evidence, the recent incidents had a clear effect on the dozens of residents who turned out for a community meeting on public safety held by Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and the Wrightwood Neighbors Association Monday night at New Life Church, 1110 W. Lill Ave.
"The topic of safety is always foremost in my mind in this ward," Smith said. Citing how an ongoing community survey had shown that a "lack of police presence" was the top local concern, she added, "People feel that crime is rising and something needs to be done now."
"It seems in the last two years we've seen more and more crimes," said Allan Mellis of Wrightwood Neighbors. Citing a recent midday holdup of a DePaul University student on Halsted Street, he called violent crime "really the concern of everyone I speak to."
Buslik, however, cited crime data showing that robberies, aggravated batteries, burglaries and even shootings were all down in the district.
"We have seen a decrease compared to last year and over the last four years," he said. Calling it "a relatively low-crime district," Buslik said, "I feel pretty good about the reported crime."
He dismissed concerns about drive-by shootings after one in January near the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center, which he said was gang-related.
"There is not a spike in drive-by shootings," Buslik said. "We had one, and now everybody's afraid."
Buslik allowed that the 337 officers at Town Hall were fewer than the combined forces before the merger with the old Belmont District, and that its 27 sergeants was "actually a bit low." But he quickly added that the district was getting eight new sergeants from the latest graduating class, as well as another from another district.
"Am I content with staffing?" Buslik said. The politically correct answer, he added, was yes, although he wouldn't turn down additional officers. He insisted there was no "slowing down" of officers doing their work.
Buslik said street stops and traffic stops had doubled from a year ago, and he was urging his officers to get out of their cars and walk the beat from time to time.
"I'm telling you the police are in this community," Buslik said. "Just because you don't see them doesn't mean the police are not here."
Smith said she had public forums scheduled with Near North District Cmdr. Paul Bauer Wednesday at Latin School, 59 W. North Ave., and next Tuesday at St. James Lutheran Church, 2050 N. Fremont St., both at 6 p.m.
"I hope the police have heard the concern and the frustration our community feels," she said.