BUCKTOWN — Mayor Lori Lightfoot Wednesday spoke out against a plan by Bucktown neighbors to hire a private security firm to patrol part of the North Side neighborhood.
According to emails sent by leaders of the Bucktown Neighbors Association, which is organizing the program, private armed security guards are expected to begin patrolling a section of Bucktown Wednesday.
The group is working with P4, a private security firm with offices Downtown and in suburban Downers Grove, to deploy off-duty police officers to the neighborhood in response to a surge in 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.
But Lightfoot said Wednesday that patrolling Chicago’s streets is the “sole province” of the Chicago Police Department.
“I need to know more about what their specific plan and scope is; but patrolling streets, responding to crime, that’s the job of the Chicago Police Department, and they do it effectively,” Lightfoot said. “We’re not gonna start because people can afford it standing up a group of — well, I think I’ve said enough. There’s a slippery slope here, and I’m very concerned.”
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 Police 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 and 26 over the same period in 2019.
Lightfoot did not give details on how the city would potentially intervene in the Bucktown security patrol, or in others that currently exist around Chicago. Asked if the city had the authority to stop the security patrols, a spokesperson for Lightfoot declined comment.
Lightfoot said she “totally understands” that residents across the city are fearful for their safety in the wake of rising homicides, shootings and other crime, “but fundamentally, the responsibility, under state law, under local law, for patrolling our streets lies exclusively with the Chicago Police Department.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, P4’s vice president of operations Kevin Conway said the company “provides off-duty police officer support and patrols on a daily basis throughout the Chicagoland area.”
“Only off-duty police officers are employed by P4 and will be handling patrols. Off-duty officers will be present to observe and report; they do not have arrest powers and if a crime is witnessed, they are directed to call 911 immediately,” the statement said.
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.
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 board member Samantha Kaplan.
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.
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