LINCOLN SQUARE — The Town Hall (19th) Police District, which serves most of North Center and Lincoln Square, has 50 more officers than it did a year ago and yet residents still feel vulnerable, particularly in the wake of a recent spate of crimes — muggings, businesses being robbed and a sexual assault.
"Long-time neighbors, they've told me this is different than anything they've seen before," said North Center resident Michael Menelli.
The perception that crime is becoming increasingly violent in the neighborhood prompted Menelli to organize a public forum, held last Friday night at Welles Park.
More than 50 neighbors showed up for the informal discussion, which centered on tactics that could make people feel safer.
"It was about finding solutions and tools — what's worked in the past?" Menelli said.
The goal was also to encourage attendance at Tuesday's CAPS meeting, set for 7 p.m. at Sulzer Library, 4455 N. Lincoln Ave.
Engaging with police, reporting suspicious individuals or activity, and organizing block clubs or neighborhood watches are all effective strategies against crimes of opportunity, said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), but he cautioned that there's no quick fix.
The sense that more crime is spilling over into previously insulated neighborhoods — something Pawar said he hears from several of his North Side peers on City Council — can be directly linked to the decimation of social services, he said.
The agencies that provide job training, counseling, mental health services and violence prevention programs have been gutted, Pawar said.
"Once the social safety net crumbles, you see more strong-arm robberies. It doesn't excuse the fact that it happened, but it's connected," he said.
Not what people want to hear, the alderman said.
"I would be lying if I just said there is a four-point plan and it's going to take effect" in some set amount of time, Pawar said.
The easy answer would be to put a cop on every corner, a suggestion that, even if practical, wouldn't produce the desired effect, he said.
"I can't sit back and just say it's a police issue. We could hire 50 percent more police and we wouldn't see a 50 percent reduction in crime," Pawar said.
Pawar, who is running for governor, said, "We need a [state] budget. We need social services ... to provide care to the people who need it."
The state has been without a budget for more than two years, the fallout of a battle between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats led by House Speaker Michael Madigan.