Alderman wants more officers in 16th District
by BRIAN NADIG
The 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District has been shortchanged on the number of assigned officers, but new police superintendent Eddie Johnson hopes to change that, according to Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st).
"That’s the major issue we’re trying to tackle," Napolitano said at the May 31 meeting of the North Edgebrook Civic Association. "It’s just not proper what we have here."
The 16th District, which covers 34 square miles, is the largest district in the city, but it has fewer than half the number of officers of another district that is a quarter its size, Napolitano said. The 16th District has 192 officers, compared to about 270 15 years ago.
The Chicago Police Department bases its officer assignments on "supply and demand," with the most violent districts getting the most officers, Napolitano said.
The 16th District often is forced to send out patrol cars with one officer instead of two due to staffing shortages, Napolitano said. The manpower shortage also means that officers spend much of their time responding to a backlog of calls instead of patrolling the streets, he said.
Johnson has said that staffing at most districts are at appropriate levels and that the 16th District should experience an increase in officers due to an influx of Police Academy graduates, according to Napolitano. The 17th (Albany Park) and the 20th (Lincoln) districts also are expected to get more officers, Napolitano said.
Napolitano said that Johnson has agreed to attend a community forum in the 41st Ward, but plans have not been completed. Johnson will participate in a forum in the 38th Ward at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at Saint Francis Borgia Church, 8033 W. Addison St.
Napolitano, a former police officer, said that officers have been put in a position where they are reacting to crime instead of taking a pro-active approach due to the increasing bureaucratic, legal and media scrutiny that they are facing and that the city is suffering as a result.
Napolitano said that he is one of two aldermen who often vote against proposed settlements in police misconduct cases. He said that the city prefers settling some cases because it is more cost effective than going to trial but that it should be challenging more of the lawsuits because a settlement signals wrongdoing even when the officer acted properly.
Napolitano also reported that his office routinely receives inquiries from home owners who want their street repaved but that the city is holding off repaving the street because of a planned sewer or water main project that must be completed first. One such street is Fitch Avenue in North Edgebrook, which several residents said is in need of repaving.
Another obstacle is lack of funding, according to Napolitano. Despite being the largest ward in the city, the 41st Ward receives the same amount for discretionary infrastructure improvements as all the other wards, he said.
The $1.32 million that each ward receives not only covers street repaving, but also installation of speed bumps and curbs, alley repairs and other projects, Napolitano said. One block of side-street repaving typically costs about $71,000, meaning that no more that 19 blocks a year can be repaved, assuming that the funds are not needed for other projects, he said.
Several residents said that portions of Caldwell Avenue between Devon Avenue and Touhy Avenue are in such bad shape that motorists have to swerve to avoid standing water or other problems. Association officials urged residents to contact state officials about the need to have Caldwell resurfaced, as the ward’s discretionary funds are not used for main streets.
Napolitano also said that residents can contact his office if they want to receive a free rain barrel.
Also at the meeting, residents expressed concern about reports that Chicago schools could be facing a 20 to 30 percent budget reduction for 2016-17. Wildwood School principal Mary Beth Cunat said that a 20 percent reduction would result in a loss of five classroom teachers. "We’re going to have to fill 18 classes with 13 teachers, Cunat said.
Some of the upper-grade classrooms could have as many as 40 students if the projected budget cuts become realty, Cunat said. Several parents with children at the school have said that they plan to move out of the city due to the budget concerns, she said.
The association members also voted to oppose a four-story building with seven condominiums and one commercial space that has been proposed for 5306 W. Devon Ave. Association vice president James Hankin said that the building would be too tall and that it could set a precedent, leading to similar buildings on Devon. Hankin said that the planned three parking spaces would not be sufficient because there is no bus route on Devon and because Metra operates a limited schedule on weekends in Edgebrook.
A recent change in the zoning code reduced parking requirements for properties near transportation hubs, including Metra stations, but several residents said that the project have be more suitable for areas that have more public transportation options. The proposed building would include bike storage for each unit.
The developer for the project announced after the meeting that he plans to reduce the height of the building by one floor. The 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee, which Hankin serves on, was scheduled to discuss the revised plan at its June 1 meeting.
Association president Erik Robertson announced that the association is celebrating its 75th anniversary and that it will seek to increase membership and to engage residents on important issues. The association plans to hold a block party on Saturday, July 23.
One resident said that the number of residents joining the association and attending its meetings has decreased because an increasing number of people are getting their information from social media. Sixteen people attended the May 31 meeting, and 39 percent of the families living in North Edgebrook have paid membership dues, compared to 46 percent last year.
"In 1941 when we had our first meeting, everyone in the neighborhood went because we were a new neighborhood," Robertson said. There was nothing else.