BUCKTOWN — As the weather warms up, Ald.-elect Daniel La Spata (1st) met with members of the West Bucktown Neighborhood Association to discuss an issue at the top of many residents’ and business owners’ minds: crime.
From home invasions to street violence, residents told La Spata stories they’ve personally witnessed or experienced in the last few years.
The incoming alderman, who takes office May 20, told the packed room at The Joinery, 2533 W. Homer St., he understands their fears and frustrations. At night, he said, his wife will call him during her walk back to their Logan Square home — and ask him to stay on the phone until she reaches the front door.
“I feel that all, deeply with you,” he said.
On April 25, a shooting in the 1500 block of North Rockwell Street frightened neighbors. Just a few days before in neighboring Logan Square and Hermosa, a gang war between the Maniac Latin Disciples and the Spanish Cobras gangs led to a series of shootings that rocked the surrounding communities.
La Spata agreed to meet with residents living near the Bucktown and Logan Square border on Monday to discuss his ideas and plans related to public safety.
West Town Bucktown Neighborhood Association President Heidi Tischer, who planned Monday’s event, facilitated a break-out session on public safety during La Spata’s first ward-wide town hall on April 30.
“We’ve had a lot of people reach out with concerns about safety,” she said.
The WBNA is a nonprofit organization representing the boundaries of Western, California, North and Armitage avenues.
On Monday, La Spata was first asked by a neighborhood association leader to describe what he knew about the April 25 shooting on Rockwell Street.
La Spata prefaced his response by explaining that until he takes office on May 20, the Chicago Police Department will regard him as a private citizen, and therefore his access to information is limited.
That said, he knew about the shooting immediately because several neighbors contacted him directly to describe what they saw or heard: 10-12 gunshots at or near 1521 N. Rockwell St., a property La Spata said is associated with the Chicago Housing Authority.
La Spata said the incident reminded him of another shooting at a nearby CHA property managed by The Habitat Company in the 1800 block of North Sawyer Avenue.
Because the The Habitat Company’s contract is up for renewal this fall, La Spata said this summer will be a time to press the organization for specific plans related to safety.
“The status quo is not good enough for us,” he said.
With regard to community policing and tracking gang activity, La Spata said he wants to work to increase the number of officers assigned to the Shakespeare Police District (14th) and plans to attend police roll call events in the 14th and 12th districts.
“If it feels like policing and resources are down, it’s because they are,” he said. “I need those officers to feel like I value the work they’re doing.”
A few residents who had lived in the neighborhood for a couple of decades described what they felt was a weakened police response to crime.
One man who moved to the neighborhood in 1999 said the police used to respond to alleged burglaries by running into homes and scaling fences. Today, he said, cops drive by and look out the window.
“I want that old energy back,” the man said.
Another longtime resident, who moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, said her home was broken into last year. When the cops arrived, an officer advised her to buy a gun, and said, “our hands are tied.”
The woman said she was aware of “abusive practices” and the “sordid history” within the Chicago Police Department.
“Maybe the swinging has gone too far in the other direction?” she said. “They don’t feel like they can do their jobs anymore.”
La Spata nodded his head and said he has heard similar concerns from other residents and officers.
If the issue of low morale is tied to not having enough resources, training or respect from the alderman, then those are things La Spata said he is willing to address.
He is not, however, in favor of allowing officers to use force as aggressively as they have in the past.
“We can have policing that is responsible and effective. I hope that that sounds fair,” he said. “I’m not willing to go back to the policing we’ve had in the past 15 to 20 years.”
In addition to public safety, La Spata identified other challenges facing Bucktown: housing and property taxes, the state of public schools, developer-driven economic development and congested transit systems.
On a city-wide level, he said he was concerned about the upcoming budget cycle. He pointed to a structural deficit of at least $200 million and court-mandated pension payments.
He said he plans to have a ward-wide town hall specifically geared toward discussing what the community wants out of the budget. But he “refuses” to vote on a plan that would increase property taxes or rates for water and other utilities.
“We cannot go down the road that we have for the last four years,” he said. “This city — we just nickel and dime people who cannot afford to pay a nickel and dime more. … That is the looming iceberg that our city is not talking about yet.”
La Spata has yet to officially announce a location for the new 1st Ward office, but said on Monday it will be near the Western Avenue CTA Blue Line stop.
The rapidly changing 1st Ward contains all or parts of East Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Noble Square, East Village, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and Bucktown.
In February, La Spata, a community organizer from Logan Square, ousted incumbent Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, who was running for a third term.
In a post-election sitdown with Block Club Chicago, La Spata described himself as deeply passionate about the issues facing the 1st Ward, housing and public safety chief among them.
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