DOWNTOWN — There are hundreds of police officers patrolling Downtown at any given time, but some neighbors fear there isn't always strength in numbers.
New data from the city's Office of the Inspector General shows as of February there were a combined 673 officers stationed in the police department's Central and Near North districts, a densely populated area stretching from 31st Street to Lincoln Park.
With 360 officers, the Near North district from the Chicago River to Fullerton Avenue had more officers than south and west side districts including Austin (350), Gresham (341) and South Chicago (327), according to the inspector general's office. Those totals don't include specialized police units mostly concentrated Downtown such as transit security, either.
Despite all the cops, some neighbors feel Downtown police are often too busy tending to protests and other big events as crime rises throughout even the toniest parts of the city. Downtown murders, robberies, batteries and thefts all rose last year from 2015, police data shows.
"I know there has been some concern among my constituents," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose ward includes part of the South Loop.
The Near North district had the fifth-most officers among all police districts Feb. 21 despite ranking ninth in the number of calls for crime the preceding year, police data shows. One reason: constant, massive protests that require the attention of officers; as well as recurring requests by Downtown aldermen to add more police to the Mag Mile and other high-profile parts of the city.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) told River North neighbors last month that 30 more police officers were coming Downtown. Northwestern police are in talks to expand their patrols off the university's Streeterville campus at the behest of Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). Dowell has successfully lobbied for more officers as well.
Downtown crime is rising despite these efforts. There were 839 reported robberies in the city's Central and Near North police districts last year, up from 600 in 2015, police data shows. Batteries and thefts also rose Downtown. There were 14 murders reported in the Central and Near North districts last year, more than double the six reported in 2015, police data shows.
The Police Department "has admitted publicly that resources will be diverted with the onset of area festivals, sporting events and protests as well; so even increases in staffing might not manifest in greater neighborhood patrols this summer," Dave Sudzus, who formed a South Loop neighborhood watch group last year, said in an email.
There were 313 officers in the city's Central district stretching from the Chicago River south to 31st Street as of Feb. 21, according to the inspector general's office. That puts the district in the bottom third of police districts in terms of officers. Dowell and Central District Cmdr. Robert Klich have both told Downtown residents that monitoring big protests and neighborhood policing needs can be difficult.
"It’s a challenge because the Loop is within the [Central] district and that commander, Commander Klich, has to divert resources to handle those protests too," Dowell said.
Like in other parts of the city, some Downtown residents have responded to rising crime by getting involved. The South Loop Safety Association, a new neighborhood watch group, formed after a murder last year in a South Loop alley. South Loop neighbors also tip each other off on crimes through a Facebook page and other social media. Many have lobbied their aldermen for more police.
"We're not going to take it sitting down, I'll tell you that," said Tina Feldstein of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, a South Loop neighborhood group.
The inspector general's office released the police assignment data Monday as it prepares to play a much more active role in scrutinizing police misconduct investigations and the discipline imposed on officers.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to add 970 positions to the Police Department in the next two years: 516 police officers, 200 detectives, 112 sergeants, 50 lieutenants and 92 field training officers. The department also will fill 500 vacant positions.