WICKER PARK — West Town neighborhood groups are demanding more transparency and collaboration from public officials to stem carjackings and other violent crime.
Nine groups signed an open letter released Tuesday asking city and county leadership to provide more details on everything from the effectiveness of publicly funded anti-violence initiatives to summaries of how the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office brings charges to carjacking arrests.
It also calls on county officials to provide a “summary on how sentencing guidelines are set for juveniles and adults found guilty of vehicular hijacking or criminal trespass to vehicle related to a vehicular hijacking occurrence.”
The West Town community area has reported 105 carjackings so far this year, according to city data. The area saw 58 incidents for the same period in 2020, and 27 in 2019.
The letter was spearheaded by Sam Royko, who started the Greater West Town Community Coalition earlier this year after his girlfriend, Erin Groble, was carjacked.
“We need to urgently address the current public safety crisis,” Royko said at a news conference Tuesday. “Chicagoans deserve to feel safe and people are frustrated with the lack of solutions and transparency from the city and the county.”
The letter will be sent to alderpeople, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, organizers said. Lightfoot’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“There is little to no transparency in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office on sentencing and prosecution updates. There also seems to be little transparency on the effectiveness of diversion programs aimed at assisting juveniles,” said Kimberly Shannon, president of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association, one of the groups that signed the letter. “We want action. We want accountability. And we want transparency.”
Royko said the letter is a first step toward evaluating the best ways to prevent carjackings and other crime in West Town and across Chicago.
“Ultimately, we need an explanation of our city and county officials as to why our current system is faltering and what can be done to address that,” he said.
Tandra Simonton, a spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office, said officials there are “committed to pursuing justice” and focusing on public safety for residents.
“We recognize community concerns around crime, and members of the [state’s attorney’s office] leadership and community engagement teams will follow up with the Greater West Town Community Coalition to address their immediate concerns,” Simonton said in an emailed statement. “We plan to share information about our prosecution efforts regarding their specific requests as we work together with all justice partners to restore faith in our criminal justice system while helping keep our communities safe.”
Foxx herself has repeatedly pushed back on claims that she doesn’t take carjackings seriously, saying in many of these cases, there aren’t even suspects arrested to prosecute.
“In the carjacking cases that were charged, we were approving or filing felony charges in almost 90 percent of those cases,” Foxx told the Chicago Defender. “In the other 10 percent of those cases, there isn’t enough evidence to file charges.”
Connor Young, president of the Wicker Park Committee, said his organization wants to see more public safety resources in the community. That includes more police and stricter enforcement of initiatives like an overnight parking ban on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue. At previous meetings on this year’s carjackings, neighbors of color said more police would lead to racial profiling and not reduce crime.
Earlier this year, police temporarily banned overnight parking on Milwaukee between Division Street and North Avenue to limit public partying along the strip, which is home to many bars and restaurants.
But the ban was not enforced on Oct. 10, when one person was killed and four others wounded in a drive-by shooting in the 1500 block of North Milwaukee Avenue.
Police at the time said they were told tow trucks were busy clearing the route for the Chicago Marathon, although the Streets and Sanitation department said it never received a request for towing.
“We’re reaching out to the sanitation department and trying to get more resources like that. And so that’s an example,” Young said. “City leaders need to make this a bigger priority. I don’t think they’re talking about it enough.”
Eight of the groups that signed the public safety letter also issued a letter last week objecting to “any ward remapping proposal that further divides our neighborhoods.”
The letter criticized a proposed ward map from City Council’s Latino Caucus, which would split the larger West Town area into six wards.
Royko and other organizers said further political fracturing would leave neighbors less able to make their voices heard.
“Public safety is of significant concern in our area, and the idea of having to advocate with six different aldermen to get things done sounds daunting, even more daunting, and we’re already struggling to get those things,” Royko told Block Club last week.
The Greater West Town Community Coalition and other organizations are holding an in-person meeting Thursday to discuss public safety and redistricting in the neighborhood.
The meeting is 7 p.m. Thursday at Nick’s Beer Garden, 1516 N. Milwaukee Ave. Representatives from the Police Department and State’s Attorney’s Office are expected to attend.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: