THE GAP — Public safety was top of mind for residents at the 4th Ward aldermanic forum Tuesday at Pershing Magnet School in Bronzeville.
Six candidates turned out for the event at the school, 3900 S. Pershing Road, where they fielded questions from audience members, with moderators from the 32nd Street Block Club Association adding a few of their own.
Khari Humphries, Tracey Bey, Prentice Butler, Helen Dean, Eboni Lucas and Rep. Lamont Robinson are vying to replace outgoing Ald. Sophia King in the Feb. 28 election. King is one of several candidates running against Mayor Lori Lightfoot next month.
After a few softball questions — including a pop quiz on the number of pedestrian bridges in the ward that nearly all the candidates failed — the conversation turned to issues like crime, infrastructure and economic development.
Residents expressed concern about the lack of police near lakefront access points in the ward. Neighbors have long complained of loud music, littering and motorcycle gangs riding on the pedestrian bridge at all hours of the night over the summer. A cul-de-sac is under construction near the 43rd Street pedestrian bridge to mitigate traffic.
Most of the candidates said there should be more of a police presence in the area and they’d support a return to community policing, with officers living in the neighborhoods they serve. Programs that would use housing incentives to entice officers into moving into under-resourced areas have been introduced by city officials in the past with little success.
But some candidates, including Bey, called for more investment in violence prevention and interruption. The 4th Ward native cited the work her organization, Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, does in the area.
“We put so much money towards showing up after the violence has happened and not enough money toward the prevention of it,” Bey said.
Humphries agreed, saying a safe neighborhood is “a connected one.”
“We have to have neighbors working together and communicating with the alderperson’s office,” Humphries said.
Butler touted the success of a public safety pilot program launched in October in partnership with Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change and Halo Security in which teams of unarmed security guards and violence prevention workers patrol hot spots within Grand Boulevard. He said collective efforts can keep neighborhoods safe.
Longtime Kenwood resident De’Avlin Olguin slammed the way the city handled the uprisings in 2020, saying the neighborhood had little to no police on hand as people trashed the neighborhood.
Dean said such issues must be dealt with “on a higher level within the Police Department.”
“The mayor and the police chief have to understand that we have to hold them accountable for making police who are assigned to our district leave to perform their duties,” Dean said.
Bey and Robinson said they would lean on community organizations to keep the peace if a similar situation were to arise again. They’d also fight for accountability once the smoke cleared.
“If CPD pulls officers from our community, I will get all of you to support me to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You must come with me to City Hall. I cannot be on the forefront without the residents in this room,” Robinson said.
Lucas said communication between alderpeople and the Police Department is key, saying whoever leads the ward must make sure residents aren’t left in the dark.
“I remember getting a text message that night telling people who were Downtown to walk south, and it turned into a complete frenzy in our neighborhood,” Lucas said. “There were no buses. I had to get in my car to drive elderly people to safety.”
The next 4th Ward aldermanic forum is 6-8 p.m. Feb. 9 at 637 S. Dearborn St.
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