West Loop residents listen to a community safety presentation on Oct. 11, 2022. Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago

WEST LOOP — Talitha Booze was initially excited about living in the West Loop, but a string of recent attempted kidnappings in the neighborhood has her strongly considering leaving in favor of a “safer suburban area.”

Booze, who has lived in the West Loop for nearly a year, was one of nearly 30 neighbors who attended a community safety meeting Tuesday at the West Loop Library Branch, 122 N. Aberdeen St., led by police and the West Loop Community Organization. It followed a September safety meeting held after women escaped at least two attempted kidnappings near Mary Bartelme Park, with area aldermen debating if they should bring in private security patrols.

Booze said the attacks have her so on edge, she doesn’t leave the house after 8 p.m.

“As soon as the sun is set, I am back in my house. I don’t leave anywhere unless it’s with a friend, or unless I’m taking an Uber,” Booze told Block Club Chicago.

Other longtime residents told officials at the meeting they’re concerned about crime in the neighborhood as development has boomed in recent years.

“When I bought my first condo here in ’99, there was nothing and I felt safer at two in the morning walking home from Vivo on Randolph than I do now at 2 in the afternoon,” said Julie Darling, a West Loop Community Organization board member.

A resident listens to a community safety presentation in the West Loop after a string of attempted kidnappings have rocked the area. Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago

The most recent attack happened Sept. 23 when a man tried to grab a 45-year-old woman and pull her into a car in the 200 block of South Sangamon Street. The woman was able to fight off the man until a rideshare passenger confronted him, police and the victim said.

Police charged a 32-year-old man with attempted abduction in connection to that attack. He also was charged with attacking two other women in South Loop within 30 minutes that morning.

The Sangamon Street attempted kidnapping happened on the same block where a dogwalker helped fight off someone trying kidnap a 30-year-old woman in late August.

Days before the August attack, neighbors reported hearing a woman yelling “get off of me” and seeing a car drive off with its back door open in what appeared to be another kidnapping or an attack on a woman.

At the meeting, William Townsell, assistant director of the Police Department’s Office of Community Policing, taught residents ways to protect themselves from attackers. People should travel in groups, be alert and not on their phone and should carry protective items such as pepper spray, he said.

If attacked or confronted, they should try to run away, readily give up their property, go limp to make themselves heavier and aim to hurt sensitive body parts on an attacker, such as their eyes, ears and nose, Townsell said.

Townsell would not answer any specific questions about the attempted kidnappings.

William Townsell of the Chicago Police’s Office of Community Policing leading a community safety presentation in the West Loop on Oct. 11, 2022. Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
Julie Darling with the West Loop Community Organization at a community meeting Oct. 11. Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago

Townsell and Darling asked neighbors to attend local CAPS meetings and the Near West (12th) Police District’s Community Conversation on Oct. 20 at Whitney Young High School.

Some residents said they’re concerned neighbors aren’t proactive enough to protect themselves, and debated the prospect of bringing in private security.

“I can’t say what you should do, but I think the best security is knowing your neighbors,” Townsell told the group.

Residents have called for private security and want neighborhood groups to consider the plan. At a community meeting Oct. 1, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said he’s looking for funding to put private patrols on the streets. But another alderman, Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), said he has concerns about pursuing private patrols.

Darling said private security is on the top of everyone’s minds, but there are concerns over who would pay for it, with Darling saying private businesses could foot the bill — but there hasn’t been anything “set in stone.”

“But it’s not meant to be a replacement for the police, it’s meant to be eyes and ears on the street,” Darling said.

Whatever happens next, there needs to be action to convince residents who have one foot out the door, such as Booze, she said.

“What would change my mind is proof that things are being taken care of. Perhaps more patrol within the area,” Booze said. “I’ve been taking self-defense classes. … It’s not something I would necessarily expect to be involved in, but just because so many things have happened over the past few weeks, you want to stay prepared.”

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