OLD TOWN — The local alderman and police commander blamed a recent shooting and open-air drug dealing on outsiders Thursday at a neighborhood public-safety meeting.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) blamed a recent shooting of two 12-year-old boys and a Marshall Field Garden Apartments maintenance worker across the street from the housing complex on "guys who got kicked out of the neighborhood who still come to the neighborhood."
Near North Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer said he was "shocked" by the midafternoon shooting outside the Green Apple Mini Mart, 1435 N. Sedgwick St., adding, "We all have the expectation a kid should be able to go to the store."
The 600-unit complex sits between Sedgwick Street and Hudson Avenue just south of the CTA Sedgwick station on the Brown and Purple lines, but Bauer called it "a well-run facility" with a top security officer who used to be a Near North District sergeant. He said the complex is known to be quick to make sure "ne'er-do-wells [are] barred and rightfully so."
"Hudson's our issue right now," Bauer said, and he'd stationed a squad car there. But when a local resident said she'd witnessed a drug deal at Sedgwick and Schiller Street, he acknowledged a "halo effect" where dealers radiate out from a place police are concentrating on.
"The criminals react to us, and we react to the criminals," Bauer said, comparing it to the arcade game Whack-a-Mole.
"Most of the guys who are hanging out on Hudson and Evergreen don't even live in the neighborhood anymore," Burnett said. He added that he and the Rev. Randall Blakey of the LaSalle Street Church, head of the Near North Unity Program, typically work to "deal with the guys in the neighborhood [to] stop any retaliation" and "try to get rid of bad apples in our neighborhood."
Bauer advised anyone witnessing an open-air drug deal to call 911 with a description of the sellers "and we can zip right up on them."
He granted the drug deals were going on there five years ago as well as last week and it was a persistent problem. The area has seen a spate of shootings as well going back to the killing of a Jesse White Tumbler in 2014 and the murders 17-year-old twins in October.
Burnett said surveillance video at the Marshall Field Garden Apartments had helped in the most recent shooting, but Bauer it was an "ongoing investigation" and he couldn't share any additional details.
Bauer did say the Green Apple Mini Mart was not to blame, as of all the calls complaining about people loitering outside the shop in recent months about half came from the store itself.
The meeting, sponsored by the Old Town Merchants and Residents Association, was held in the gymnasium of the Catherine Cook School, 226 W. Schiller, with dozens of local residents in attendance.
Pointing out that crime in the area did not compare to the shootings and drug dealing in the Harrison Police District on the West Side, Burnett called Old Town "one of the safest neighborhoods in our ward."
Bauer repeated many of the crime-stopping tips from other recent public meetings, "what I call hardening the target": trust your instincts, be a nosy neighbor, don't hesitate to call in suspicious activity and, most basically, lock doors and windows, as a recent rash of Old Town garage burglaries all victimized open garages.
Burnett and Bauer both advised residents to attend regular police beat meetings, with Jose Rivera, a staffer for Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), chiming in, "We need you to engage."
Bauer also called for stricter gun laws and lashed out at permissive laws on juveniles, saying they'd recently picked up a 15-year-old three times in 10 days on gun offenses.
"If you pick up a gun, you need to go to jail," Bauer said. "You've got to get on your state officials."
Burnett also advised residents to get to know the kids in the neighborhood. "There are a lot of good kids in this neighborhood who look like everybody else," he said. "We need to embrace our neighborhood."