A Chicago Police squad car is parked in Bucktown on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

BUCKTOWN — Neighbors packed into a police meeting Wednesday night in Bucktown to demand solutions to the surge of armed robberies in the neighborhood and across the city, just hours after Chicago’s new police superintendent addressed the skyrocketing number of attacks.

The standing-room-only meeting at Holstein Park went well past its standard hour run time, with many neighbors expressing fear and outrage over the robberies in general as well as a widely shared video of a man getting robbed Monday afternoon while walking down a Bucktown alley.

The man is seen in the video eating a slice of pizza when two men approach him from behind and start to beat him up. The video shows the man fighting back and holding onto his backpack as the two robbers continue to attack him until finally they make off with his bag.

The 33-year-old man was taken to the hospital in stable condition. Police have made no arrests in the incident and it remains under investigation.

Neighbors on Wednesday shared stories of feeling scared to walk to the train or take their kids to school in recent months, and one man said he had also been robbed at gunpoint Monday outside of his Bucktown home.

“I would say that the temperature of fear of crime and the brazenness of crime is higher than I’ve ever seen,” said Steve Jensen, a longtime Bucktown community organizer and CAPS volunteer who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years.

Chicago has reported a 24 percent increase in robberies citywide through mid-September compared to last year, with many of them concentrated on the city’s Near West and Northwest sides.

Wednesday’s meeting was hosted by Sgt. Mike Edens for residents of the department’s beat No. 1432 in the Shakespeare (14th) Police district.

The Shakespeare District, which includes Bucktown and parts of Wicker Park and Logan Square, has seen a 53 percent increase in robberies as of Sept. 23 compared to the same period last year, according to police data. The district has reported a 96 percent spike compared to 2019.

Earlier this month, Mayor Brandon Johnson said there was a “strategic plan” in place to combat the robberies, although divulged few details.

“Our police department is deploying a strategy to respond and to address this growing dynamic. And I’m grateful that there is a strategic plan that is also coordinating efforts with the state as well as the county,” Johnson said Sept. 14.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon after being sworn in, new Police Superintendent Larry Snelling was asked by reporters about his plan to combat the robberies.

Snelling said the force’s detective division is deploying preventive strategies and “utilizing technology” to track “individuals … crews and repeat offenders.”

“We’re also going to have teams that we put together just to focus on these particular types of incidents,” Snelling said. “This will be the focus. So we want to make sure that we keep our communities safe.”

He added that the department will be “collaborating with our lawmakers in order to hold people accountable for these types of violent crimes.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson stands with Larry Snelling after he was unanimously confirmed as Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department by City Council on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

As robberies have soared over the summer and into this fall, the Chicago Police car pursuit policy — which determines when and how officers can chase a crime suspect in a vehicle — has drawn renewed scrutiny.

Edens, who at a Monday public safety meeting said State Police have been “instrumental” in catching robbery suspects due in part to a less stringent chase policy, reiterated that sentiment Wednesday.

The city has strengthened its pursuit policy several times in recent years after costly lawsuits stemming from numerous crashes.

Chicago Police’s current car chase policy requires every chase meet a “balancing test.” In other words, officers must determine that apprehending a suspect is absolutely necessary and “outweighs the level of inherent danger created by a motor vehicle pursuit.”

“It is not as simple as just go and chase,” Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes Bucktown, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “We have to do a balancing test, and it’s not easy to do. It’s not easy, but they have to follow the laws.”

Chicago Police can and do chase suspects but are selective about when they do so, Waguespack said.

Snelling, who was asked directly about the department’s chase policy Wednesday, said the first thing officers must weigh when deciding whether to chase a suspect in any crime is the “preservation of human life.”

The liability involved in police chases ultimately falls on the officer and city, not the person being pursued, he said.

“When it comes to vehicle pursuits, we think about the sanctity of human life first,” Snelling said. “If we have someone that we’re pursuing and they’re reckless, and the officer knows that there’s a possibility that this person could crash into someone, take someone else’s life, that officer makes that decision by weighing the balancing test, you know, is the risk to the public at that time worth attempting to stop this individual.”

Larry Snelling speaks after he was unanimously confirmed as Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department by City Council on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Officials at Wednesday’s meeting urged neighbors to “be vigilant” and call 911 if they see suspicious behavior, like someone wearing a ski mask in the middle of a nice day.

Edens said if you do find yourself being robbed, hand over whatever you have and don’t fight back.

“At the end of the day, your life is more important than property,” he said.

After the meeting ended, Jensen and Waguespack stayed for over an hour to field more questions and discuss potential “political” solutions to the robbery surge.

Jensen passed out sheets of paper with the names and phone numbers of Bucktown’s state legislators, with the header “DEMAND your State Legislator toughen the consequences for violent crime.” He encouraged meeting attendees to call officials and push for stricter punishments for robberies, shoplifting and other crime.

“There’s no fear of consequences. So this will continue until the consequences become such that these people find other things to do,” Jensen said during an interview before the meeting.

Numerous teenagers have been arrested over the past month across the city for armed robberies. On Tuesday, a 15-year-old boy was arrested and charged for an armed robbery that took place Saturday in Humboldt Park in the 14th District, according to police.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Bucktown residents Chris and Alyssa, who declined to give their last names, said they were disappointed with some of the lack of specifics about possible solutions.

But they said the outpouring of community at the meeting, with dozens of people showing up to hear about and discuss public safety, was heartening.

“It’s nice to see that people actually showed up,” Alyssa said. “You see all the comments on the internet, right? People on the Ring app and everything else and it’s different to see people in person, you see that people actually care. … It felt good that the community actually came out.”

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