EDGEWATER — Two of the Far North Side's highest ranking officers told community members Tuesday night that crime in the area is "trending in the right direction" — but it will take an ongoing commitment from both city and neighborhood stakeholders to combat persisting problems like gangs, theft, burglaries and robberies.
"Together we've made a great deal of progress on safety, but it involves constant, constant, constant work," said Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who held a safety meeting alongside Cmdr. Sean Loughran of the Lincoln Police District (20th) and Cmdr. Roberto Nieves of the Rogers Park Police District (24th). "It's never done, never finished. Just one incident — it can spiral out of control."
The Lincoln District covers the southern portion of Edgewater from Lawrence to Thorndale avenues, while the Rogers Park District spans the northern half between Howard Street and Thorndale.
Edgewater has become somewhat of a low-crime "diamond in the rough," the alderman said. However, the reputation is also a "double-edged sword" because it can inadvertently invite criminals into a neighborhood that has become lax with taking safety precautions, Loughran added.
When violent crime does happen in the area, it's felt across districts, the commanders said.
"We're fighting much of the same fight," Loughran said of the overlap, in particular when it comes to social media-feud gang disputes — an newer element of gangs that has made his job "10 times harder," he said.
Fractured gangs seeking revenge or trying to assert a reputation now use online platforms, an approach which can spark violence. Shootings in Englewood may still affect Uptown, Edgewater or Rogers Park, officials said.
Referencing a Mother's Day shooting in Brighton Park that left two dead and eight others injured when masked gunmen targeted mourners at a memorial, Osterman, a lifelong Chicagoan, said: "I can't think in my lifetime in Chicago seeing something like that."
Officials said a major focus of Far North Side police has been on taking down gang leaders, but strategically placing officers and resources is still a game of "chess."
Loughran's district is among the smallest in the city in terms of officers, though the Lincoln District also reported the lowest number of crimes in the city between Feb. 21, 2016 and Feb. 21, 2017, according to new data in a report released by Chicago's Inspector General. Rogers Park had the second-lowest number of crimes reported between the same period.
"We have to always monitor — did my bad guy who lives in my district get shot Downtown, or did he get shot over on the West Side? Is there going to be retaliation?" Loughran said. "We have to always try to play chess when we try to move resources, because resources are precious."
The other most commonly reported crimes in Edgewater are thefts over $500, burglaries and robberies, the commanders said.
Nieves said theft over $500 leads the charge in police Beat 2433, which covers Edgewater between Ridge, Devon and Peterson avenues and the lake, with 17 reports between Jan. 1 and May 14. Burglary and robberies tied in second place with 13 incidents each in the same time span, Nieves said.
Still, the beat was "fabulous," Nieves said, thanks to community members who have stepped up to help over the years.
Osterman said his office's "No. 1 priority" is keeping the neighborhood safe, something that can only be helped when community members show their presence.
"If it is safe, then all of you are going to feel safe" enjoying places like the Broadway Armory, local businesses and schools, the alderman said.
"If it is not safe, like we've had in the past years, then people will stay confined to their homes and we will not have that community sense," he continued. Progress requires a "team effort" between police, residents, and other city agencies, he said.
In order to maintain the community's safe reputation, officials stressed the importance of calling 911 as crimes are in progress, getting as much of a "head-to-toe" description of suspects as possible, removing expensive or important items from vehicles, supporting after-school programs and youths, and getting to know neighbors.
"Even just a simple, 'Hello,' or 'Good morning' — it's nice," Nieves said. "The neighborly sense, that vibe, we need to get back to it. If you know your neighbors and know everyone on the block, that makes the community so much safer."