IRVING PARK — Residents fed up with the uptick in violence in the Albany Park (17th) Police District and what they say is a lack of detail on when new officers will be assigned to the area will host a meeting this month aimed at strengthening community relationships and addressing neighborhood crime.
Gun violence and graffiti tied to an apparent gang war left many neighbors concerned about public safety. Since November, residents have been asking the city to assign more cops to the area, but they haven’t gotten a response.
“We’re just kind of fed up with what’s going on and we want to help people figure out what they can do to help address this violence,” said Misha Mann, president of the Residents Of Irving Park Civic Association.
After speaking to other neighborhood organizations also fed up with the violence, Mann said she and other community members decided to form a “super group” called the Northwest Safety Coalition to work on neighborhood safety.
The coalition’s current members are The Residents of Irving Park, Horner Park Neighbors, Irving Park East Neighborhood Association, Irving Park Concerned Neighbors Association, Women of the 33rd Ward and Israel’s Gifts of Hope.
“I think it’s important that civic association leaders, surrounding businesses and groups like mine are working together to connect with each other and with resources and information. We can’t reach everyone on our own,” said Dalia Aragon, co-founder of Israel’s Gifts of Hope. “It’s important that we’re all coming out and deciding to take action together. We can’t always put solving this kind of violence on just the police and politicians.”
The coalition’s first event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at Bateman Elementary, 4220 N. Richmond St.
“Communication and information sharing is really what our goal is. Getting to know your neighbors and what to do in terms of an emergency,” Mann said. “I’ve heard people talking about wanting to start block clubs. We’re going to get people to formally sign up to create some new block clubs. ”
Featured speakers will include Jocelyne Williams from the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Noemi Pagan from the police department’s 911 dispatch center and Commander Ronald A. Pontecore Jr., Lt. Michaela Alexa and Johnny Campos from the Albany Park Police District.
Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) will be hosting a separate town hall at 1 p.m. Jan. 25 at Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson Ave.
That meeting will have experts like Dr. Marc Atkins, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Margaret Kulujian, a staff member with Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office coordinating with the new restorative justice court coming to Avondale later this month.
“We want to have a conversation about what it takes to actually cultivate safety in our neighborhood and build a sense of community, which is not exactly the same as increased policing,” said Kirsten Rokke, Rodriguez’s chief of staff.
Just because there’s uncertainty regarding when more officers will be assigned to the 17th Police District doesn’t mean neighbors can’t work on public safety solutions themselves, she said.
“When people are out on the street and know each other, it’s safer,” Rokke said.
Part of the reason Roosevelt was chosen to host the event is the school’s restorative justice program and the diversity of the neighborhood it’s located in.
“In some parts of our community increased policing can actually make people feel unsafe. While some people may find having more police makes them feel safe, that’s not a universal experience,” she said. “Unfortunately, and this is not specific to one neighborhood, there’s also often a fear of young people and specifically young people of color.”
Hosting the event at Roosevelt will allow for young people to be included in the public safety discussion.
“It’ll help us center the discussion on the positive influence young people can have on public safety and also hear their perspectives on it,” Rokke said.
Regarding the coalition’s event scheduled earlier in the week, Rokke is glad to see those neighbors fostering stronger community relationships.
“We plan to attend [that meeting as well] to make sure we can hear concerns, be supportive of community members efforts, and invite attendees to the Saturday ward-wide event,” she said.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Jaime Andrade, Jr. is still trying to get answers from the city about how many new cops the district will get and when.
Andrade launched a petition in November asking for police officers be permanently assigned to the 17th Police District. As of Thursday, the petition had 1,679 signatures. It is being co-sponsored by the Avondale Triangle Community Group, Horner Park Neighbors and The Residents of Irving Park
“The mayor’s office told me we’re getting more police when the department does its redistribution of officers,” Andrade said.
As part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to merge the Office of Emergency Management, Police Department, and Fire Department’s administrative functions, 151 cops would be taken off desk jobs and assigned to street patrols.
“But I haven’t gotten the exact number of officers or the exact timeline of when they’ll show up. I told the mayor we can’t wait until June or July for this district to be fully staffed. I’m still waiting on a response,” Andrade said.
“I’m still waiting for a response from the city about this because I know it’s going to be brought up during these two public safety meetings happening and I want to be able to give people answers,” Andrade said.
Andrade took the lead on creating the petition after attending a Nov. 19 CAPS meeting at Horner Park where neighbors voiced their concerns about the lack of staffing in the district and the increase in violence.
The petition describes the 17th Police District as one of Chicago’s largest, covering a number of the city’s northwest side neighborhoods while also being one of its most understaffed districts.
“There has been a historical trend that, when new police officers are assigned to neighborhood districts, the 17th District and our community has been forgotten and shortchanged by previous administrations,” the petition said.
District staffing is something Cmdr. Pontecore has brought up numerous times at community rallies focused on public safety and at CAPS meetings at the end of last year.
He stressed the importance of letting his officers know of suspicious activity in order for the city to keep the district’s resources and staffing levels up, saying the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
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