ALBANY PARK — Shootings have more than doubled in the 17th Police District on the Northwest Side, which includes Albany Park and Ravenswood Manor, and neighbors are frustrated police and elected officials have yet to put a stop to them.
A crowd of about 45 people attended a public safety meeting Wednesday where some questioned and criticized police and elected officials, asking why there aren’t more officers, why the current officers don’t seem to be taking the shootings seriously and if violence interruption teams promised by the city have been deployed.
The public safety meeting was the first to be done in-person since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Police data shows there had been 20 shootings and five murders in the district by this point of 2019, while 49 shootings and eight murders have been reported so far this year. Police have said the violence stems from escalating gang-related conflicts.
And there was gunfire near St. Edward Catholic School, 4343 W. Sunnyside Ave., just hours before Wednesday’s meeting. No one was wounded in the incident, which happened about 1:30 p.m. in the 4600 block of North Lowell Avenue near to the school, said Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th).
One woman, who said she is a mother at St. Edward, said she was frustrated it took hours for the school, police and elected officials to notify the school’s community about the gunfire. It happened when children were being dismissed from class and going home, she said.
“We need more officers. … Where are the officers who are driving around the district all day long now?” the woman said. “I don’t want to keep hearing that we have resources. That’s pretty much a political lie.”
One couple at the meeting, who declined to give their names, criticized police for not investigating thoroughly when there was gunfire early Saturday by their home near the intersection of North Harding and West Granville avenues.
They said officers responded to their 911 call but didn’t appear to get out of their cars or talk to neighbors until they came by again much later in the day to collect bullet shell casings.
“I know you guys are overwhelmed; however, it took a long time for the police to come, and they never knocked at my door to see if I had any information,” the woman said.
Police didn’t have information Thursday about the incident.
Other neighbors who spoke at the meeting also urged officials to focus on bringing violence interrupters and other resources — like mental health care — to the neighborhood to prevent the shootings.
“I really want to know where the violence prevention money is and when are the violence interrupters going to be on the streets,” said Irving Park resident Caitlin Brady.
Brady pointed to last week’s shooting of Hector Alvarez Jr., 38, of Albany Park, as an example of how adding more police hasn’t helped the district. The married father of five remains hospitalized after his family said he was mistaken for someone else when he was shot in Ravenswood Manor.
“Hector was not a gangbanger, and now he’s fighting for his life,” Brady said. “I am tired of us doubling down on failed solutions. We have been adding cops for years and the violence continues to go up.”
Albany Park neighbor Sandra Gutstein launched a petition Tuesday asking for local officials to invest more money in community outreach, housing stability and violence interrupter programs, among other things, instead of more police. The petition had more than 580 signatures Friday.
“We’re just not seeing resources put towards preventative measures like they are for police,” Gutstein said before the meeting, which she did not attend. “I’m not saying we don’t need every resource available to try and stop these shootings. But social services and mental health approaches have had their funding cut back over and over again by the city.”
Last week, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) said Mayor Lori Lightfoot agreed to send violence interrupters and more police resources to the area to curb the gun violence.
And as of last week, the 17th District is using tactical units, gang investigation teams and community safety teams to address the gang activity, Rodriguez said at Wednesday’s meeting.
But Rodriguez has said bringing in more officers is not an effective solution for preventing crime.
In January, the district had 209 officers assigned. That’s fluctuated: At one point, there were 253 officers in the area, and now there are 225, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the Police Department hasn’t given her straight answers on how it decides to staff its districts or if having 225 officers in the 17th District is considered a normal staffing level.
Rodriguez and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who was also at the meeting, have championed efforts to at least partially defund the Police Department and focus the city’s resources on mental and physical health care, violence interruption work and other violence prevention measures.
Violence interrupters from Metropolitan Family Services are already in Albany Park and are working to identify “problem buildings” that may be related to the ongoing shootings, Rodriguez said.
“Violence interrupters can step in when we are facing those issues and start having those conversations to prevent these issues from escalating,” she said.
Marisa Goldberg, a North Mayfair resident, said the rise in violence has been worrisome — but it was good to see support for violence interruption work at Wednesday’s meeting.
“There are shooting happening just blocks from our houses,” Goldberg said. “We’ve had shootings in the past, but nothing like we’ve seen in the last couple weeks.
“But I was very happy to see there was support tonight for violence interrupters. I think people don’t understand that having violence interrupters come here doesn’t mean that there will be fewer police officers here. They don’t understand those are two different things and that’s why they’re afraid about those kinds of resources coming to the area.”
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