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Albany Park

After Teen Shot Near Albany Park School, Neighbors Call For More Police, Social Services To Keep Violence At Bay

Shootings in Albany Park and Irving Park surged during the pandemic. Frightened residents said they think it will take short- and long-term work from police and community leaders to improve safety.

Parents walk past Volta Elementary, 4950 N Avers Ave., during a peace march Feb. 11, 2022.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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ALBANY PARK — Volta Elementary students, parents and teachers rallied outside their school late last week to protest violence after a 16-year-old girl was shot nearby in the middle of a school day.

More than 200 people marched around the school Friday, carrying signs demanding solutions from city officials and investment in the school from the district. One sign in Spanish read, “We want peace and security.”

“Leaving [the neighborhood] is not a solution,” said Volta parent Kiersten Solis, who helped organize the peace march. “Doing things like this event today is meaningful, helps us heal and sends a message that gun violence is not allowed here. We deserve better than this.”

For many Northwest Siders, the latest shooting punctuates a frustrating two years of sharply increasing gun violence. Shootings in the Albany Park and Irving Park community areas more than doubled in 2020 and remained high in 2021, according to police data.

Local leaders and police blamed gang clashes, a drop in social safety net programs and strains on police officers. 

With more officers moving back to patrols and social services coming back online, local leaders said things are moving in the right direction. Neighbors said both strategies need to keep scaling up in 2022 to make their communities safer.

“We want more of everything, but it all really depends on what the mayor will do. We could ask for this and that, but it’s really up to her,” said Volta parent Jessica Corona. “If we can’t get these resources, then we’re stuck in the same place and a shooting can happen again.”

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
Parents walk past Volta Elementary, 4950 N Avers Ave., during a peace march Feb. 11, 2022.

‘It’s Terrifying And I Just Felt Helpless’

When Volta faculty were told to lock down their classrooms the morning of Feb. 1, teacher Claudia Xoy thought it was an active shooter drill, she said. She got concerned as it went on, she said.

About 30 minutes into the lockdown, Xoy’s husband told her a teen girl had been shot around 10 a.m. in the 5000 block of North Harding Avenue, down the street from Volta. 

Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th), who has previously advocated for more police resources in her ward, met with parents after the shooting and asked for more officers to be assigned to the area, as well as more police cameras and license plate readers.

Police are investigating the shooting. No one is in custody.

Xoy’s fifth grade classroom has a clear view down the street near where the shooting happened, and some kids started crying after they’d learned what happened to the teenager, the teacher said. 

Once the lockdown was lifted, students, teachers and parents spent the rest of the day trying to cope with their anxieties about the shooting, Xoy said. 

“I just kept telling the kids, ‘We’re going to be OK,’ that you’re safe here and that I’m going to protect you,” Xoy said. 

Solis was working from home when she heard the gunshots. She said her mind raced as she thought about what to do next; she briefly thought about moving.

Solis has lived in Albany Park since 2003. She said she’d heard of people being shot over the years, but shootings increased during the pandemic, and she repeatedly heard gunshots near her home.

“It’s terrifying, and I just felt helpless,” Solis said.

Credit: Facebook/33rd Ward
Neighbors participate in a peace march in Albany Park on Sept. 20, 2020.

Albany Park, Irving Park and Ravenswood Manor neighbors already were fed up with spiking violence in early 2020, forming a Northwest Safety Coalition to urge city officials to address the problems.

Then, the pandemic hit. Like in neighborhoods across the city, things got worse.

After one homicide and 10 shootings in 2019, Albany Park recorded seven homicides and 25 shootings in 2020, according to police data. In 2021, there were two homicides and 13 shootings reported.

Irving Park was hit hard, too. There were two homicides and 17 shootings in the area in 2020, compared to three homicides and seven shootings the year before. In 2021, there were two homicides and 16 shootings reported, police data show.

Neighbors demanded more police cameras and patrol officers in response to the violence, which included a firefighter shot and wounded while putting out a car fire, a woman fatally shot in her apartment and a bullet piercing a day care’s window during its off-hours.

City officials sent tactical units, gang investigation teams and community safety teams.

Violence interrupters from the Alliance of Local Service Organizations, funded through Cook County, were also dispatched to Irving Park and Albany Park in 2020 to quell gang-related conflicts and support at-risk residents.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) and a Northwest Side police captain said some of that is starting to work.

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) speaking to neighbors Nov. 4, 2021 near the intersection of Sunnyside and Francisco avenues. Gunfire at that intersection rattled neighbors on Halloween.

As a candidate and since getting elected, Rodriguez-Sanchez advocated for violence interrupters and social services to address the root causes of violent crimes. The pandemic abruptly disrupted or shut down parks, schools, nonprofits and other institutions offering services people rely on, which contributed to the spike in crime, she said.

“I think that that is really important for us to reflect on because we need to be funding those institutions a lot more,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. 

After reading sociologist and criminologist Patrick Sharkey’s book “Uneasy Peace,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said the next step to reduce crime should be investing in housing, job creation and violence prevention.

“His book is incredibly interesting and looks at what structures of support that vanish can do to communities,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “I am hopeful and looking forward to continuing to advocate for more funding to make investments in those structures of support and care.”

Capt. Edwin Kaup, acting commander of the 17th Police District, said more neighbors have been willing to share video and information with police after a violent crime.

“We’ve also had great cooperation with our area partners and the detectives to clear these homicides,” Kaup said. “And we’ve worked specific missions in our zones where we think we’re going to get violence from.”

Some Northwest Side neighbors have said they wanted more police in the short-term, and it’s reassured them to see more officers keeping watch.

Ultimately, residents like Cindy Zucker, of Ravenswood Manor, think a strong infrastructure of community services is what will reduce violent crime long-term.

“Police aren’t preventative. That’s not their role,” Zucker said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Horner Park and the Chicago River as seen from above the Irving Park neighborhood on Nov. 16, 2021.

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