WEST LOOP — Police in the Near West District are stepping up efforts to slow violent crimes that have broken out in the West Loop and across the larger community area.
But the changes will have little effect without neighbors helping to break the cycle as well, officials said Wednesday.
About 40 neighbors gathered Wednesday at the McDermott Center, 932 W. Washington Blvd., after a series of brutal attacks and robberies on the Near West Side have left many unnerved and feeling that crime has suddenly spiked.
"Over 21 years, we have not seen the types of serious crimes we've seen over the last two years," said Roger Romanelli, who arranged the meeting as the executive director of Fulton Market Association. "There is a new level of crime and intensity, and it's time for us all to come together and say, 'Never again.'"
Already, newly assigned Lt. Mark Sedevic has come to the district from Englewood, where he said he contributed to a 42 percent drop in violent crime over the past two years. In charge of the district's plainclothes officers, Sedevic said he is encouraging unmarked police cars to drive through the area and for officers to use plate readers to spot stolen vehicles that could be used as getaway cars.
Community policing Sgt. Chris Schenk is setting up public safety workshops on topics such as self defense and burglary prevention, he said.
Ideally, the district will soon add bicycle patrols with six officers to supplement the single squad car and two foot officers patrolling the Fulton Market District, Capt. Phil Kwasinski said.
"That's the only way to police this area," Kwasinski said. "I think you would see a huge difference with everything. Bike teams are amazing."
Kwasinski said he is looking for the manpower in his district to make the bicycle patrols possible.
Romanelli steered the meeting's focus to achievable goals like getting more businesses to install high-quality security cameras.
After an Oct. 15 robbery left a West Loop woman bleeding and unconscious in the street, Romanelli said he was shocked to hear how few buildings on the block had available footage of the attack.
"Some were broken or the video recording was backlogged," he said. "It was truly a wakeup call for all of us."
After Romanelli encouraged businesses and condo buildings to improve their surveillance capabilities, some asked what kind of city money could be used to reimburse them.
Kinzie Corridor tax-increment financing and money from the city's Small Business Improvement Fund were suggested as two options, although only the latter would be available for mixed-use residential buildings, officials said.
Romanelli and his business-oriented association are also advocating for better street lighting, particularly along dark stretches like Lake Street. Some wondered whether they should push for more innovative options like noise-triggered surveillance cameras known as ShotSpotters or smart lights that can adjust brightness based on need.
But, Kwasinski noted, nothing thwarts a criminal like a nosy neighbor. Officers encouraged neighbors to call 911 any time they would need police to respond. Even reporting someone acting suspiciously merits a call to the emergency line, they said.
"A criminal will do what he does until he gets caught," Kwasinski said. "We'll put the cuffs on them, but we need you to break that pattern and be the disrupters."