Police discuss methods of fighting crime at forum


Chicago Police Department officials discussed upcoming methods of dealing with crime on the Northwest Side, focusing on updates to patrol strategies and community police programs as well as the use of improved technology at a forum held Thursday, June 8.

Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th) sponsored the community forum at Chicago Tabernacle Church, 3231 N. Cicero Ave. The guest speakers included Chicago Police Department superintendent Eddie Johnson, 16th (Jefferson Park) District police commander William Looney, 17th (Albany Park) District police commander Elias Voulgaris, 25th (Grand Central) district police commander Anthony Escamilla and other city officials.

About 100 residents as well as various community organizers and local legislators were also in attendance.

The commanders said that for the foreseeable future all patrol shifts would require two instances of at least 15 minutes of foot patrols and that foot and bike patrols would be concentrated in parks, commercial corridors, public fairs and other high-profile public areas.

The commanders also plan to re-emphasize traffic missions and stops on arterial streets, with the hope of identifying and stopping criminals, many of whom enter from other neighborhoods.

“Lots of crime is transient in nature,” Escamilla said. “The goal is to stop the right people at right places.”

Additional resources would be devoted to field training for officers. Voulgaris said that he plans to further support the liaison officer program in his district, which connects officers with residents of similar backgrounds.

“The 17th district is the second most diverse district in the city,” he said. “Having people in the department with shared faith and culture as parts of the community, whether they be Hispanic, Jewish, Korean, helps keep (residents) comfortable.”

Looney said that the department is working on updating databases on local business locations and contact information, which he said is important in efforts to streamline responses for crimes in such locations. So far, about 700 of 2,500 businesses within the 16th District have updated their information, Looney said.

Upcoming plans for community-police interaction were discussed as well, such as officer participation in youth mentorship and Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (DARE) programs.

“Officers will be helping community youth on their own time, playing sports or teaching skills . . . I’ll teach kids backgammon,” Voulgaris said.

Speakers also discussed a renewed focus on technological programs to aid with preventive policing. Data gathered from various sources, such as Chicago’s surveillance cameras, 911 calls, Shot Spotter kiosks used to audibly locate gunshots, or license plate recognition devices are to be processed real-time within CPD’s growing network of police fusion centers.

“The challenge here was not just using these capabilities in headquarters, but pushing them out to district offices,” Jonathan Levin, chief of CPD’s Bureau of Tech Services said.

The use of data and technology could compliment crime-fighting efforts better than solely relying on the human components of policing, Levin said.

Shot Spotter systems, for example, provide accurate readings of a shooter’s location within 25 yards or less, and have been found to detect shootings faster than 911 calls by an average of 2 to 5 minutes, he said.

Crime has been a hot button issue among local residents. In the past 6 months, 516 instances of property crime and 142 instances of violent crime have occurred in the 30th Ward, versus 441 property and 134 violent crimes occurring in the 6 months preceding that, according to CPD’s Clear Map crime tracking system.

Despite policing efforts, the increase of crimes to date has some residents worried about what might happen in the summer, when rates of crimes tend to increase

Kelly Rauch, a liaison from the Belmont Central Business Group, read a letter signed by more than 30 business owners and residents, highlighting concerns that 911 calls often receive delayed or no response, and that vehicle patrols are less responsive to live instances of criminal activity than foot patrols.

“Almost one in two [area] businesses have been vandalized within the past year. Criminals exploit boundaries of police districts,” Rauch said. “We are now desperate for aldermen to work with us to correct issues of property crime and vagrancy.”

Some residents said that there was not a committed effort for crime response or prevention via active police patrol and presence.

“I don’t trust cameras and technology,” said Mike Planthauer, a retired auxiliary police captain in attendance at the meeting. “In certain instances there’s been questions with who is actually watching the cameras.”

“We will get notification (of any incidences) from these three commanders,” Reboyras said. “This (accountability) program started about two years ago.”

Throughout the meeting, speakers echoed the sentiment that community members need to play an active role in crime reduction efforts, encouraging attendees to participate in block clubs and notify police for problem areas of congregation and criminal activity.

“Communication with the public is a key effort,” Johnson said. “The (crime problem) didn’t get broken overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight,” Johnson said.