EAST VILLAGE — More than 100 West Town residents packed a public safety meeting organized by community groups on Thursday night to demand more patrols and the return of a neighborhood police station that closed four years ago.
Citing statistics from the city's data portal, Neal McKnight, an East Village Association board member, said robberies and carjackings are up by more than 60 percent over the past year — and seven of the 11 "beats" in the Near West District rank in the top 20 percent of carjackings citywide.
"There is a cancer and the cancer is crime and if we don't give [the police] the resources they need to solve the problems that are facing us, then we are going to be in real trouble," McKnight said at the meeting in East Village's Bath House Cultural Center, 1019 N. Wolcott St.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) said police are "nearing in on two teams of criminals" who've been responsible for many of the recent carjackings but could not elaborate further.
Rex Archambault, the victim of an armed carjacking last month, told Near West Capt. Phil Kwasinski that it took police 20 minutes to respond after he was robbed of his car and during that time, the thieves were around the corner at Dunkin Donuts using Archambault's credit card to buy food, which he was able to track through an app.
"If police had been there sooner, I could have said, 'Hey, they are right there around the corner,' " Archambault said, adding, "I don't see any more police on the street now than 25 years ago. We are not safe here."
Archambault and others called for the return of the Wood Street (13th) District Police station, which closed in Dec. 2012 and was consolidated into the Near West (12th) District at 1412 S. Blue Island Ave.
About a year after the Wood Street police station shuttered, it became a Cook County Sheriffs office.
There are 339 officers in the Near West District — less than the more than 500 Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted when the two districts consolidated to form one of the city's largest police districts, spanning eight communities.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said that the recent addition of 18 officers to the Near West District is not enough.
"I'm a longtime Chicago resident and I've never felt more at risk. There has been a shift in our society, a change we all see. There is a predatory nature in the kind of criminal acts we are seeing," Hopkins said.
Kwasinski, a veteran of the force who started in the 1980s, said, "We need to get the troops and the troops don't come as easily as when I was hired."
Moreno said bringing back the Wood Street station would not solve the crime problems and described the issue as "political football." Moreno said it would take millions of dollars to bring back the station.
A man in the crowd shouted: "We pay lots of tax dollars!"
Moreno said adding more police is a "struggle" with aldermen from all over the city trying to get more cops to the districts serving their wards.
"There are aldermen in this city who want our officers. One aldermen said to me, 'Your ward is Disneyland [in terms of crime].' They have two homicides a week," Moreno said.
The meeting's hosts, leaders from the East Village Association and the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association, got a written commitment from Moreno and Hopkins to advocate for more than 400 police officers to patrol the Near West District streets by Jan. 2019 and to fight for a return of a neighborhood police station.
Kwasinski, who is leading the Near West District while Cmdr. Ed Kulbida is out on medical leave, asked residents to help police by being aware.
"A big problem I see is we are so disengaged with our environment. How many times do you see people buried in their phones, walking down the street? When we are out and about, if we can pay attention to our environment, that's a huge plus," Kwasinski said.
Reactions to the meeting — which lasted almost two hours and included safety tips from police — were mixed.
George Edwards, whose wife was beaten in an attempted robbery last Sunday on her way to Mass, said he felt that too much of the discussion focused on the closed police station.
"I felt like it was a waste of time; they talked in circles," Edwards said.
Anne Shaw, a resident who advocated against the closure of the Wood Street Police station in 2012 and challenged Moreno in the 2015 First Ward aldermanic election, said she thought the meeting went well, based on the strong turnout before a holiday weekend.
"The [closed] police station is a thorn in everyone's side. We don't give up here," Shaw said.
Watch the entire meeting, below, courtesy of resident Steve Niketopoulos: