LAKE MEADOWS — Police near 31st Street Beach plan to more stringently enforce closing hours, improve lighting and restrict parking after five people were shot and wounded nearby and a “takeover” brought hundreds of beachgoers to the area this month.
Police officials detailed their strategies during a recent public safety meeting organized by Ald. Sophia King’s (4th) office. But residents said they’re worried the officials’ plans won’t be enough to stop parties at the beach that spill over into the neighborhood — while others called for a compassionate response to the gatherings.
“You have no idea what we’re dealing with over here. Fifty percent of our people are seniors,” said resident Mell Monroe. “Most of us live near the lake because we want to walk on the lake. We can’t do that anymore. It’s not fun anymore. We’re at the point where we don’t want to be here next year.”
Officers will use a public announcement system to announce the closing of onsite parking lots beginning at 7:30 p.m., 30 minutes ahead of the beach’s 8 p.m. shutdown, police Commander David Harris said. Police also hope to close a 24-hour parking lot next to the beach during the beach’s after-hours and add anti-loitering signs to the area, Commander Joshua Wallace said.
The Police Department is working with the Park District to improve lighting on the beach, and a light truck will be used to keep the parking lot illuminated, Harris said. A temporary camera system will be installed to monitor the area, and visitors who violate the beach’s rules will be ticketed and towed, he said.
Police will direct people to buses and trains as much as possible when clearing crowds out of the beach, but that’s proven difficult because there’s a lack of accessible public transit, Wallace said. The department is working with ride-hail companies to move their nearby pickup areas so they’re easier to access, Wallace said.
The police plan, coupled with new seasonal parking restrictions enforced on Rhodes Avenue between 31st to 32nd streets, will help deter people from congregating in the beach and surrounding area after hours, said Prentice Butler, King’s chief of staff. Signs could be installed as soon as July, Butler said.
“It comes down to mere presence. We’re committed to having a vehicle [at the beach] during peak times, and our traffic missions calls for police presence between King Drive and 31st Street Beach. We’ll have bike units out there, and we’ll be using blue lights as a deterrent,” Wallace said.
But residents said they want even tougher action on teens and young adults engaging in rowdy behavior in the area, saying the crowds are regularly causing a disturbance. Some said they wanted police to take curfew-breaking teens to police headquarters at 3510 S. Michigan Ave. instead of dropping them at home, which officers do now.
Concerns about large crowds of teens in popular destinations peaked after 16-year-old Seandell Holliday was killed in Millennium Park last month. The shooting led to Mayor Lori Lightfoot controversially banning unaccompanied minors from the park during weekend evenings and moving the citywide curfew from 11 to 10 p.m.
A party at the beach in mid-June brought large crowds to the area — and a large police response. Police reported four arrests. Some neighbors said things had gotten out of hand, while others said kids were just being kids and the event hadn’t affected the beach during the day.
“I see them out there with children — little toddlers — and they’re just out there in the streets. I see the blue lights, but they don’t do anything. The problem is the teenagers,” resident Toni Campbell said.
Another resident, Jon Cannon, said it was time to crack down.
“We’re not trying to demonize young people, but a lot of them don’t have parenting. I pay a certain amount of money to live where I live, and there’s an expectation of security where I stay,” Cannon said. “At some point, we have to be intentional and have the uncomfortable conversations or else we’ll be doing this next week and the week after.”
Others called for a more compassionate approach to the problem, asking police to engage the youthful crowd in a “more humane way.” Resident Janel Pilate told the group a lack of local activities for youth could be why they gather at the beach.
Monroe said planned beach and park activities for teens and young adults could prevent some problematic behavior, in addition to more police presence and better parking enforcement on Rhodes Avenue.
Resident Leonard McGee said the answer needs to be providing opportunities for local youth.
“The kids come here because it’s safe. They don’t have a resource where they live, so they come here. What could we do to provide a resource where they live so that can enjoy where they are? That’s the question,” McGee said.
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