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Lightfoot Defends North Side Police Staffing Levels But Says 911 Response Time, Community Policing Can Improve

Mayor Lori Lightfoot heard from Devon Avenue business owners who said the police response to burglaries and robberies has been lackluster.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined police officials to discuss North Side public safety Monday, Jan. 3, 2023.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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WEST RIDGE — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday denied that police resources have been taken away from the North Side while saying the Police Department can improve its response time and community presence.

Lightfoot’s comments came at a community roundtable discussion on public safety held Tuesday in West Ridge. It is part of a series of sit-downs Lightfoot is having with neighbors on crime issues specific to their communities.

The roundtable included business owners and officials from the Devon Avenue commercial corridor, one of the premier South Asian shopping districts in the United States.

Some of those business owners complained not only about robberies and burglaries aimed at their businesses and customers, but also about police response times and lack of follow-up by officers.

“Jewelry stores, businesses have asked, ‘Can we have more police presence?'” said Susan Patel, a small business owner whose family owns Patel Bros. grocery store. “All the jewelry stores have hired extra security. It’s just not enough. We need a physical presence, a squad car.”

Others at the meeting lamented police response times.

Sam Kukadia, who co-founded the South Asian Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, said his parents waited 45 minutes for officers after their Far North Side home was burglarized last year. Another neighbor said shots were fired into the courtyard of his building and police didn’t respond for more than half an hour.

“With all due respect, I shouldn’t have to call the alderman to get [police] resources to scared elderly people,” Kukadia said.

A recent Chicago Tribune investigation found police response times exceeded an hour for thousands of high-priority calls placed to 911 last year.

Lightfoot said she will work to improve response times and ensure police have a more visible presence in the community.

“We’ve got to do better to make sure that when something happens, that we’re there, we’re responsive.” Lightfoot said. “Presence, visibility, knowing who the officers are on the different watches, you have a right to expect that.”

Some at the meeting asked if local police response times lagged due to rumors that public safety resources have been pulled from historically low-crime neighborhoods to Downtown or high-crime areas.

Lightfoot denied those claims.

“We use data to make sure that we’re filling the needs based on what the hot spots are,” Lightfoot said. “But this notion that somehow you all are starved for resources, that we’re sending everything to Downtown … is just not so.”

Improving police response time and community visibility have been hampered by declining ranks in the Police Department. The department is down about 1,700 officers since 2019, according to CBS2 Chicago.

Local Police Cmdr. Joseph Brennan said at the meeting that 12 officers were brought on within the past month. More new officers are being trained in the academy, which will hopefully allow for more local patrols and better response times in the future, officials said.

“We’re getting more bodies,” Brennan said. “That helps us, but I think it’s just going to take some time to fill all those voids.”

Lightfoot said hundreds of officers were brought on last year, creating extra help that was distributed “equitably” throughout the city.

The North Side public safety roundtable comes after a 2022 in which murders and shootings were down citywide.

In the police district that covers Rogers Park and West Ridge, and in which Tuesday’s roundtable was held, murders and shootings increased last year compared to 2021, according to police statistics. Car thefts were up by nearly 100 percent in the district, with 548 recorded last year. Burglaries were up 32 percent, and thefts up 82 percent year-over-year, data shows.

As more officers come into the fold, Lightfoot said she will work to improve police visibility in the community to be more proactive on crime.

“We talk all the time about the necessity of officers getting out of their cars, getting to know their residents. … Clearly, we have to do better,” Lightfoot said. “Having a presence of uniformed officers is a deterrent to crime.”

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