IRVING PARK — Hundreds of Albany Park and Irving Park residents packed a Thursday night meeting to demand more police officers be assigned to the area — and found out it’s happening.
Thanks to community demands, the Albany Park (17th) Police District will be getting at least 10 new police officers, State Rep. Jaime Andrade, Jr. announced during the meeting at Bateman Elementary, 4220 N. Richmond St.
The meeting was organized by a new group known as the Northwest Safety Coalition, a “super group” of existing organizations that came together in response to crime in the neighborhood. The group includes 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.
Some neighbors have been asking for more cops in the Albany Park Police District since October, when there were a series of shootings.
Joanna Read, one of the neighbors who helped organize Thursday’s meeting, said the local police district has lost nearly 20 officers over the past two years. She and other members of the coalition used information from the city’s data portals to document the decline.
Andrade credited the coalition’s continued pressure on the city for the new officers being assigned to the district. He said because of the 17th District’s reputation as a safe area, it’s often the district the city pulls resources from to move to other parts of the city.
“But your work has worked,” he said.
People who live and have businesses in the Irving Park and Albany Park neighborhoods have been frustrated with what they feel is an increase in gang violence and graffiti.
In response, Andrade launched a petition on behalf of the neighbors in November to push for more police officers.
As of Thursday, the petition had 1,828 signatures.
“But it’s always a constant battle, one that’s been going on for over 25 years. But you have to keep the pressure on,” Andrade said.
A timeline for when the new officers will arrive in the 17th District was not yet available.
Over 200 people attended the two-hour meeting at Bateman. Part of the message was a push to form more block clubs, build more phone trees and work better with police.
“Please start block clubs. That’s the number one reason we want you here tonight. To know your neighbors,” said Misha Mann, president of the Residents Of Irving Park Civic Association.
Albany Park District Cmdr. Ronald A. Pontecore, Jr. said the district is still one of the safer ones in the city, statistically speaking. Social media posts about crime allow more transparency about what’s going on in the neighborhood than ever before, which is why it may feel like the neighborhood is more dangerous than it is.
He did recommend that neighbors attend beat meetings on a regular basis to get to know their neighbors and the local officers. That will help prevent issues from “snowballing” into larger issues. Neighbors should not just attend beat meetings after something bad happens, he said.
“Block clubs and phone trees work. They’re a great tool,” Pontecore said. “And these kinds of meetings are what we need. Coalitions like this. Neighbors getting together to deal with these problems along with the police.”
He also said he was impressed with the level of community organizing that led to Thursday’s meeting, and stressed it’s something the community should keep building on.
“Organizing ourselves is always going to be the key to being safe. Knowing your neighbors is the key thing,” Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) said. “If something happens around your house one of the first things you’re going to do is knock on your neighbor’s door. So you need to know who they are.”
Sharing information and neighbor’s supporting one another are keys to being safe, she said.
“The staffing issue seems to have been resolved for the moment with the new resources coming to the 17th District. That’s work that’s being done at the city level,” Rodriguez said. “But I think we also have to think about safety as a long term project and not just when there is an uptick in violence.”
Rodriguez is hosting a town hall at 1 p.m. Saturday at Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson Ave., also focused on public safety solutions.
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.
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