LAKEVIEW — Eric Perry said he’s used to being hyper-vigilant when leaving work after busy weekends like Pride Fest and Market Days. A bartender at Scarlet in Northalsted, booming business meant people like him could be carrying a lot of cash, making them vulnerable to being robbed.
But after a rash of highly publicized robberies in December in Lakeview, that sense of caution isn’t just reserved for bustling weekends anymore, Perry said.
“It’s every night now, and we’ve definitely had talks at the bar about what we can do to make sure everyone is safe getting home,” Perry said.
Crime has risen citywide during the pandemic, and North Side neighborhoods like Lakeview and Lincoln Park have seen spikes in armed robberies and carjackings. Some neighbors said they’re too scared to go outside alone, and neighborhood officials said they need more police power, along with a multi-pronged approach to prevent crime in the area.
In the Lakeview community area, robberies have risen 36.5 percent since 2019. There were 217 robberies reported in 2021, compared to 149 in 2020 and 159 in 2019, according to police data.
In Lincoln Park, robberies overall have declined 11.3 percent since 2019, with 102 reported last year. But armed robberies and carjackings in both areas have drastically risen compared to pre-pandemic levels.
There were 30 carjackings reported in Lakeview in 2021, compared to 15 in 2020 and six in 2019. In Lincoln Park, there were 19 carjackings reported last year, compared to 18 in 2020 and eight in 2019.
Lakeview recorded 75 armed robberies involving a gun in 2021, compared to 25 in 2020 and 23 in 2019. In Lincoln Park, there were 44 such robberies, compared to 21 in 2020 and 15 in 2019.
“I’ve been pretty comfortable walking home from work most nights until recently,” Perry said. “I’ve had conversations about this with multiple bartenders at other places in Lakeview, and we’re all a lot more worried about each other. It’s a scary time.”
‘People Aren’t Comfortable Leaving Their House After Dark Alone’
Perry and the staff of Scarlet, 3320 N. Halsted St., have implemented precautions to make sure everyone is safe getting home from work, he said.
“We travel in groups a lot more now, or whoever happened to drive to work will drop all of us off on their way home, even if it’s just around the corner,” Perry said.
It’s not just late-night employees feeling wary.
Derek Lambert, a Lakeview neighbor, said he worries about his wife, who has a visual impairment and often walks by herself to the nearby library.
“We’ve had to adjust our behavior a bit, so we’re starting up the car a lot more to avoid even a simple walk to the library,” Lambert said. “Part of the allure of moving to the city five years ago was that my wife would be able to get around more, but now neither of us are comfortable for her to go out alone.”
Lambert said he’s reached a “frustration point” and would like for city leaders to seriously tackle root causes of crime. Lambert noted well-publicized issues with police rosters — including hundreds of retirements, vacant jobs, absences because of COVID-19 and canceled days off — but said staffing isn’t the primary issue because “those are the guys that show up after the bad thing has happened.”
“We need to be questioning why these people are committing these crimes and what other opportunities they have,” Lambert said. “The bottom line is these people are committing crimes for a reason, and I’d love to know why because then maybe we could do something about it other than hit the problem with more cops.”
‘We Cannot Rest Until We See More Officers’
Local alderpeople want to see more police officers as part of a multi-pronged approach that involves officers, all levels of government and community involvement to prevent crime.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward encompasses most of the Lakeview community area, said his office has helped add more security cameras, private security patrols and better lighting to make the area safer.
“Certainly we are aware of the increase in carjackings and robberies, and mostly we’re hearing about the blatant use of force in them, whether it be carjackings or having people mugged on the street, but there’s maybe a gun in hand or more of a violent attack,” Tunney said.
Tunney said his office has worked with Lakeview’s special service areas — local tax districts that fund expanded services and programs through additional property taxes — to make sure private security is patrolling the area’s entertainment districts. His office also has worked with the Chicago Cubs to saturate Wrigleyville with security cameras, he said.
Neighbors can help by ensuring they have adequate porch and gangway lighting or motion cameras, which can better help police officers solve crimes, Tunney said. Businesses can also install security cameras and connect them to the 19th District police station, he said.
“They call it the war room, but the combination of networks of cameras in Lakeview is probably one of the more sophisticated in the city,” Tunney said.
Tunney said he’s requested more police patrols, but the Lakeview area hasn’t seen them yet because the Police Department is short-staffed.
“That’s a work in progress, but our effort is to try to bring back some of the resources into the neighborhoods to increase beat patrols,” Tunney said. “We cannot rest until we see more officers on the beat, more tactical officers and probably a relook at some of the county and state policies and/or legislation.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward encompasses most of Lincoln Park, said her office has implemented similar strategies since a spike in robberies and carjackings in December.
“We demanded more police resources, which we received. We are demanding accountability from all the levels of government involved in crime, and we also upped our game as to community involvement,” Smith said.
Since December, Smith’s office has held dozens of safety walks in which she meets with neighbors outside and patrols the area to “send a very strong message that there are people out in this community.”
“We can’t control if somebody’s going to come into our community, but we can let them know that we’ll be watching and that when they get caught, we’ll be trying to get tough sentences,” Smith said.
Smith said the safety walks have helped her office listen to neighbors’ concerns about crime and identify things like areas that could use more lighting or security cameras.
“We are really encouraging people in our neighborhood organizations to have these walks anytime on their own, because that community piece is incredibly important,” Smith said. “Ultimately, it’s communities and how they interact that is the best tool to stop crime.”
Smith has also brought back the “Whistlestop” program, which was used in the ’70s to try to combat crime.
Smith’s office has been giving out whistles during her safety walks and encouraging neighbors to blow on them if they find themselves in a suspicious situation or witness to a crime. If anyone hears a whistle, they’re supposed to call the police, then move toward the whistle’s sound while blowing their own whistle.
“The whistle program is to notify neighbors that you see something, and it absolutely should not be used when you are a victim of a crime, and we’ve made that very clear,” Smith said. “One should never use a whistle when you are the actual victim of a crime. Unfortunately, it remains true that the best thing to do in that situation is nothing but comply.”
Smith’s office has also launched a postcard campaign in which neighbors can write to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Timothy Evans to demand greater accountability for criminals and more transparency surrounding the outcomes of criminal cases.
Foxx and Evans have repeatedly denied that their policies are to blame for the city’s crime spike.
“Our strategy is on all levels, and it’s on all levels because I believe when a community is confronting a problem, it doesn’t do any good to just point fingers,” Smith said. “Everybody who has responsibility around an issue should put forth whatever effort they can, and if they are making efforts, can they do more?”
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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