Crime scene tape in Chicago. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

LAKEVIEW — Carmen Cruz is trying to balance her concerns about crime with “not living in fear” after she witnessed a robbery and was almost robbed herself near the Southport Corridor earlier this month, part of a spate of recent robberies and carjackings across Lakeview and Lincoln Park.

Cruz pulled up to her house at 5:10 p.m. Dec. 2 on Southport Avenue and saw a teenage boy pacing back and forth on her porch. The boy asked if he could use her cellphone, she said.

Cruz was asking the boy what happened to his phone when she heard a neighbor “screaming bloody murder” down the street, she said. She turned and saw another teen running away, heading south in an alley. The teen talking to her took off, running after the other boy.

Cruz called 911 and chased after the two boys, but then turned around to check on her neighbor, who had been pushed to the ground by the other boy and had her phone stolen, she said. Police confirmed the robbery Monday and said detectives are investigating.

“My neighbor was surrounded by other people and was just shook and crying,” Cruz said. “I’m not going to live in fear, but had it have been five minutes later, that would have been my son instead of me out there, and that’s what’s scary.”

Crime has risen across the city during the pandemic, and Lakeview has seen a spike in robberies and carjackings. The community area has reported a 26.6 percent increase in robberies, with 181 through Dec. 7 of this year compared to 143 at that point in 2020 and 159 over the same period in 2019, according to police data. There have been 26 carjackings reported in the area as of Dec. 7 compared to 15 by that point of 2020 and six in 2019.

In Lincoln Park, carjackings have risen during the pandemic, with 15 through Nov. 24 of this year and 16 by that point of 2020 compared to eight by that point of 2019. But the neighborhood has seen a drop in reported robberies, with 82 as of Dec. 6 of this year compared to 108 over the same period in 2020 and 115 in 2019.

The crime is “unsettling,” Lakeview resident Brendan Moore said.

“Maybe it’s because I’m paying more attention because these things are shared so widely on social media and in the Citizen app, but it seems like things are getting a lot worse in the neighborhood,” he said.

The Southport Corridor in the Lakeview neighborhood on March 3, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

‘I Don’t Feel As Safe As I Once Did’

Among recent violence in the area, several people were robbed at gunpoint in separate incidents and an elderly couple was carjacked all on Friday.

The first robbery happened about 11:45 p.m. Friday in the 800 block of West Barry Avenue. Five men and three women were walking when someone in a dark-colored car pulled up and stopped, police said. Three men with guns robbed the group of their purses, wallets and cellphones before getting back in the car and driving off.

About five minutes later, a 34-year-old woman was walking in the 600 block of West Melrose when three men with guns stole her purse and wallet and hit her head before driving off. The woman was bruised and treated at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, police said.

The third robbery happened 20 minutes later in the 1700 block of West Wrightwood Avenue, where two men with guns robbed a 28-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman of their cellphones and wallets, police said. The men drove off in a blue car with a man or boy driving.

Earlier that day, a 79-year-old woman and an 82-year-old man were driving in the 800 block of West North Avenue when three people came up to them and forced the couple from their car, police said. The carjackers drove off in the car.

No arrests have been made in any of the attacks, police said.

“I don’t feel as safe as I once did in this neighborhood,” Moore said. “I used to in the summer be able to walk home late by myself and feel super comfortable. Now, I don’t.”

Moore said he’d like to see more police officers in the neighborhood to deter would-be robbers and carjackers.

“I also want to see more of a plan from our aldermen and city leaders on what they’re going to do about this crime, because it feels like there’s a lot of finger-pointing about who’s fault it is,” Moore said.

Businesses and buildings along Southport Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood on March 3, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Local alderpeople said they are working with police, business owners and residents to boost police patrols, raise awareness and shore up safety precautions.

Calvin Cottrell, the community outreach and public safety director for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward encompasses Lakeview, said the office is working with the 19th Police District to increase patrols on major thoroughfares and the number of biked officers monitoring residential side streets.

“It may take time for these increased patrols to begin working, but we are hopeful that the perpetrators of these crimes will be arrested soon,” Cottrell said.

Tunney’s office is also holding safety meetings with the three Lakeview-area chambers of commerce later this week, and they’re asking local businesses to make sure they have appropriate video cameras.

“We will also be connecting business owners with their local beat police officers to build trust and increase response time,” Cottrell said.

In Lincoln Park, 18th and 19th District police officers are working together to increase visibility in the neighborhood, said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).

Smith has held monthly safety walks in neighborhood areas like Oz Park, Old Town and the Gold Coast to connect with neighbors and hear their concerns around safety.

“These are done to identify neighborhood problems and things that need to be done like lighting, which we’re going to do,” Smith said.

Officials are also “greatly increasing” the number of license plate readers and surveillance cameras in the ward, which Smith said have been successful in helping police find stolen cars.

Smith also cautioned people not to leave their cars running.

“We’ve had horrible cases of Uber drivers and things like that being pushed out of the way when they’re trying to get to their cars because they left them running,” Smith said. “It’s the same thing as leaving the back door of your house open.”

Smith encouraged neighbors to take common-sense approaches to improving their safety, such as carrying a whistle or walking with other people when they’re going out to walk their dogs.

“Having eyes on the street is the most valuable thing to drive criminals away,” Smith said. “It sounds counterintuitive to people who are frightened, but if you bring a friend, it’s much more likely to be able to just drive people away who are going to commit a crime.”

Cruz said she’s been teaching these kinds of common-sense safety measures to her children so they don’t feel as scared when walking through their neighborhood.

“I took them on a walk at night and told them to always walk on Southport, the main street where it’s brightly lit and people are around,” Cruz said. “But on the way home I took them through the neighborhood on purpose to show them how much darker it is.

“I’m teaching them to always look left and right and keep an eye out to see if somebody is behind you. If there is, they should cross the street to see whether or not they’re being followed. And if the person is following, start screaming your head off or run. We have to stay vigilant otherwise you’ll be terrified in your own neighborhood.”

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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