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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

Shaken By Neighborhood Crime, Chatham Residents Debate Possible Solutions — Including Drones

"We have to get the message out that you can't do what you want to do in our neighborhoods," one neighbor said.

Chatham residents gather at a table at a community meeting on June 29, 2021. Residents convened to discuss solutions to deter crime in their neighborhood.
Atavia Reed/ Block Club Chicago
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CHATHAM — After neighborhood leaders began dismantling the 75th Street boardwalk in the wake of a mass shooting, Chatham residents are brainstorming more ways to try to deter crime throughout their community.

A few dozen neighbors gathered at a Monday night meeting hosted by the Greater Chatham Initiative in a response to outcry from neighbors about the uptick in problems stemming from large, late-night gatherings. Neighbors have reported people urinating in the bushes, leaving behind heaps of trash and loud noise until the early hours of the morning.

Ten people were shot earlier this month in the heart of the business district, killing a mother of three and wounding nine other people.

“I live in the community like you do,” said Nedra Sims-Fears, the group’s executive director. “We have seen a surge in violence and want to talk to the community residents and business owners to figure out solutions on what we can do to make our communities safer.”

Sims-Fears invited a South Shore resident and owner of a drones company to pitch neighbors on his services as a possible solution. Steven Philpott, Sr., CEO of XtraMedium Communications Group, owns MySkaut, which offers operated piloted drone fleets. 

“Drone coverage of the city is the future of where the city needs to go to protect communities,” Philpott said. “You get additional coverage. It’s a force multiplier, and it doesn’t have to engage you in a lethal way. It gives you a better decision-making platform.”

According to Philpott, businesses, such as those along 75th Street, could use MySkaut in a four-step process: 

  • After a security guard has an incident at a business, they can call their supervisor. 
  • The security guard supervisor can reach out to their local Chicago Police Department liaison or call 911. 
  • The security guard supervisor evaluates the threat to determine if a drone needs to arrive at the scene or track a potential suspect. 
  • The drone follows the suspect for up to three miles and reports their position as needed. 

“This is how we [can] help this ourselves versus complaining about it and hoping for it to be solved,” Philpott said. “We can use different tools to make it happen.” 

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) called it an “interesting idea.” 

“How many of us have security cameras, security dogs, alarm systems?” Sawyer asked. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to have what I would consider a private security force controlling your neighborhood?”

Sawyer said he envisioned adding a speaker to the drone to speak directly to people congregating in the neighborhood. 

“I want to get a speaker to go, ‘Hey, we see you right here, you got to move. We’re recording you right now. We see everything that you’re doing,'” he said. 

Some residents resisted the idea, one even accusing Sims-Fears of trying to push the idea onto neighbors. After Sawyer suggested residents hypothetically could pay an extra sum toward property taxes for the service, neighbors questioned why the burden of safety always fell back on homeowners. Another resident asked if there could be a pilot problem to show residents how the service works before they commit to using it. 

There was no consensus by the end of the meeting. Some neighbors said they wanted more police in the area. Baba Feme, a Park Manor resident, said the city needs better programming that gives young people something constructive to do. 

“The youth are critical to not only the development of the neighborhood but the foundation,” Feme said. “Are they any training programs that are available for the youth? Or are they just focused on sending them somewhere else in the neighborhood?” 

Tonya Hooks, a Greater Grand Crossing resident, said community members won’t tolerate the disturbances any longer.

“We hope that our elected officials see that we care about our neighborhood and that they understand that we’re serious about this,” Hooks said. “We don’t expect the kind of trouble we saw a few weeks ago to ever happen again. The police are short-staffed, but the solution is us. We’re here. We’re going to make it work for us because we live here. This is our neighborhood.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
75th Street in Greater Grand Crossing on June 14, 2021. Two days prior, a shooting wounded nine others in a parking lot near Lem’s Bar-B-Q at 311 E. 75th St.

The 75th Street boardwalk was created in September to help restaurants weather the pandemic, adding outdoor seating to places along 75th between Indiana and Calumet avenues. Places without patios like Brown Sugar Bakery and Lem’s Bar-B-Q, 311 E. 75th St., suddenly had a new way to draw in business.

But residents complained about the potential of rowdy crowds leading to violence along the boardwalk. The mass shooting was the last straw for many, and the Greater Chatham Initiative will take down the remainder of the boardwalk by the end of August.

Pamela Temple, a Park Manor resident and president of the 69th and Michigan Block Club, said removing the 75th Street boardwalk will help remove the crowd that causes crime.

“I don’t think the South Side is ready for [the boardwalk] because of the type of people that come in the neighborhood,” Temple said. “We have to get the message out that you can’t do what you want to do in our neighborhoods. You have to act accordingly or get out.”  

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