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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Armed Private Security Officers Could Start Patrolling Bucktown This Week, But Organizers Won’t Say How Program Will Work

The Bucktown Neighbors Association has refused to answer questions about how the patrol would work. But patrols could begin as soon as Wednesday, according to documents and emails from the group.

Homes in Bucktown along Oakley Avenue on Nov. 16, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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BUCKTOWN — Armed private security guards are expected to begin patrolling a section of Bucktown on Wednesday, according to emails sent by leaders of the Bucktown Neighbors Association, which is organizing the program.

According to documents distributed by the group, the Bucktown Neighbors Association is working with P4, a private security firm with offices Downtown and in suburban Downers Grove, to provide nightly patrols of the neighborhood in response to carjackings and other crime.

Security guards will patrol the area between Armitage Avenue to the north, Damen Avenue to the west, North Avenue to the south and Paulina Street to the east, according to a P4-branded PowerPoint presentation dated Dec. 1 distributed to some neighbors earlier this month.

The nightly security patrols could begin in the evening and last past midnight, with hours changing depending on the season, according to the presentation. During the spring and summer, the patrols would begin later and last longer.

A slide from a PowerPoint dated Dec. 1, 2021 describing the area private security will patrol in the Bucktown neighborhood

The Bucktown Neighbors Association has insisted on communicating only through an anonymous email address, and it has not made any of its members available for an interview.

The presentation lists Paritosh Batra, Jeff Lowe, Don Richman and Samantha Kaplan as board members of the Bucktown Neighbors Association. Batra is listed as the nonprofit’s agent on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.

The board declined to comment on or answer specific questions about the plan.

According to a document labeled “P4 FAQs” sent to the members of the group and reviewed by Block Club, the guards will be armed, but they don’t have the authority to arrest anyone.

Responding to a question about “what exactly” guards can do if they encounter a crime being committed, the unsigned document says it’s left up to the “off-duty police officer” and “their years of training.”

“If someone is being held [at] gunpoint and they feel that this person’s life is in imminent danger, the off-duty police officer will interject and try to diffuse the situation. While they are off-duty police officers, they do not have arrest powers or jurisdiction to make an arrest. It must really be a lifesaving event,” according to the document.

When asked how often guards shoot their guns in other neighborhoods they’ve patrolled, the document says P4 has “intercepted several major incidents at HOB and none of our officers ever discharged a weapon or have even pulled their weapons out. This is a last resort and should only be used in a lifesaving event.”

It is not clear what “HOB” was referring to. P4 did not respond to a request for comment.

‘A Lot Of Unknowns’

In a letter sent to some neighbors Nov. 11, the Bucktown Neighbors Association briefly described its intention to hire a private security patrol and asked for funding.

“To help deter the rash of crime in Bucktown, neighbors between Winchester and Paulina are organizing a private security patrol,” the letter reads. “There are similar patrol programs in place in nearby neighborhoods. Our program is being coordinated by the newly established non-profit, the Bucktown Neighbors Association.”

When first reached for comment last week, the group’s members said in an email they are “looking into various safety strategies and do not have a timeline to share” for when a security patrol could begin.

But the patrol will begin Wednesday, according to an email sent to neighbors by Kaplan about a Slack channel being set up to communicate with security guards.

In an email dated Dec. 7, Kaplan wrote, the “Slack Channel is live but we cannot start to communicate with officers until the patrol begins on Dec. 15.”

When asked to confirm the start date for the patrol, the group’s members said in an email Friday they “believe the program will start Dec. 15. We do not know for sure and are still in negotiations with them. It’s possible that it is pushed back at which case we would communicate to the neighborhood.”

When reached again Friday via email, the Bucktown Neighbors Association initially responded that they would be happy to “help inform neighbors of these legal safety measures in case they are not aware of what’s going on,” and asked for written questions to respond to.

But after a Block Club reporter sent questions asking how the patrol will be managed, what oversight mechanisms will be in place, how a security guard would react to a possible crime and how the security company was selected, the Bucktown Neighbors Association again declined to answer.

“You know what, we are all volunteers with this neighborhood association and do not feel comfortable speaking on behalf of the community regarding these questions,” the group’s members said in an unsigned email Sunday.

In an email last week, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes much of Bucktown, said he hasn’t “had any meetings with the group, so I can’t answer much about them.”

“I had one conversation a few weeks ago with one of the founders about what the district police and existing neighborhood watch were doing with us to deter crime. I’m sure it would be helpful to have another set of eyes on a portion of the neighborhood to watch for crimes,” he wrote.

Ken Tyler, who has lived in Bucktown since the late ’90s, said he’s talked to several neighbors involved in organizing the patrol but has concerns about how it will work.

“I haven’t seen how the program will be administered, what kind of quality controls are part of the process,” Tyler said last week. “I understand that everybody is panic-stricken every time somebody robs somebody. … But I don’t know that that’s the answer. But I don’t know what the answer is.”

Tyler said he’s seen security guards in Bucktown conducting practice patrols in recent weeks, but he has questions about their effectiveness.

“What are the performance requirements for this group? I haven’t seen anything. What are they supposed to do? They can’t stop anybody. They can only call CPD, is my understanding,” he said. “My concern would be: What if something happens with the private security firm, say they shoot somebody, what’s the legality? Just a lot of innuendos there, a lot of unknowns.”

Julie Horowitz Jackson owns Virtu, a gift boutique just north of the proposed security patrol boundary.

Horowitz Jackson said the neighborhood has had trouble getting police to respond recently because of manpower issues, but that doesn’t mean private security is the answer.

“I worry that any private entity isn’t trained to handle what they may or may not experience,” said Horowitz Jackson, who has operated Virtu for more than 20 years. “Are we getting trigger-happy rent-a-cops, or are we getting people who know what they’re doing? I certainly don’t want to see an escalation of an incident by somebody that’s not trained how to handle it.”

Pamela Maass, executive director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is waiting to learn more about the security patrol.

“We haven’t really heard anything about the program, who’s funding it, how it got started, so this is all new information to us,” she said.

Special Service Area No. 33, which is administered by the Chamber, offers a rebate program for businesses in the district which reimburses some costs of hiring unarmed private security services.

Businesses can apply for a rebate of up to “75 percent of approved costs not to exceed $5,000 per year per location,” according to a document provided by Maass.

Maass said the special service area commissioners are considering whether to amend the program to include armed security services.

In a statement, the chamber’s members said they “will continue to be an advocate for the small business community and our neighbors in doing what we can to support crime reduction strategies, and we encourage the Chicago Police Department to dedicate additional resources to our business district.”

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
14th Police District Commander Elizabeth Collazo addresses Wicker Park and Bucktown residents about the recent surge in carjackings on Sept. 28, 2021

The effort comes as Bucktown and all of Chicago have seen a surge in carjackings the past few years.

Through Dec. 9, Chicago has reported 1,658 carjackings in 2021, up from 1,303 in 2020 and 544 in 2019 during the same time period. The 14th District — which includes Bucktown, Logan Square and parts of Wicker Park — has seen 86 carjackings so far this year, up from 53 over the same period in 2020.

This fall, local alderpeople and police organized community meetings to raise awareness of the surge and provide updates on policing strategies being implemented to deter carjackings and other crime.

At the time, Ald. Brian Hopkins’ (2nd) office said eight carjackings were reported Sept. 13-20 in the Bucktown and Wicker Park area.

More recently, police reported a 22-year-old woman was “forced her out her vehicle at gunpoint” at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8 in the 1900 block of West Potomac Avenue in Wicker Park.

The Bucktown Neighbors Association has cited the rise in crime for the need for private security. The group is “coordinating efforts on behalf of over 120+ households who are supporting a program that they think can help deter the rash of crime that has taken place in the area,” they wrote in an email.

A slide from a PowerPoint dated Dec. 1, 2021 providing details on a private security patrol organized by a Bucktown neighborhood group

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