Officials answer community safety questions
by JASON MEREL
Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th) held a virtual community safety meeting on Sept. 30 to address concerns about a recent rash of gang violence affecting several areas in her ward.
Nugent was joined by 17th (Albany Park) District commander Ron Pontecore Jr., City of Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications director Richard Guidice and Norman Kerr, director for the Office of Public Safety and Violence Prevention for Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Pontecore said that district tactical teams returned to the district from citywide detail the week of Sept. 21, Guidice discussed the importance of calling 911 and tools used for emergency response and Kerr said that violence interrupters were working to prevent retaliatory violence.
Residents submitted more than 20 questions at the safety meeting.
Pontecore said there have been a few arrests stemming from recent shootings and district police are actively working the cases.
"The problem is, we always run into the problem of no one wants to talk or the code of silence," he said. "We are getting some really good leads and hopefully we’ll be making more arrests. Unfortunately, it’s not like TV. It depends on how much evidence we can collect and if people are willing to talk."
A resident asked about Shot Spotter cameras and how effective they are. Pontecore said that the technology triangulates where the shots are coming from and identifies the location to within 7 meters. He added that shot spotters see a much quicker police response and often the offender is still on scene with a gun when officers arrive.
Without a gunfire locator, Pontecore said a person will call 911 because they hear a shot and it could take takes several minutes before officers get it. He said shot spotters receive input, which goes to a call center for verification and then directly to the district, taking about 45 seconds on average. Pontecore noted that the district would benefit from shot spotters with license plate readers, since crimes have been reported where offenders fled to the expressway.
A resident asked what the community could do to help.
"Deployment is based on 911 calls so it is incredibly important to call," Nugent said. "On the aldermanic side, we’re working to fix lights and street signs. It’s harder to commit crime in well-lit areas."
"Be that nosy neighbor," Pontecore said. "You see something out of the ordinary: a car circling the block and not looking for parking, a large congregation of strangers, etc. Call 911. Start block clubs and phone trees. No one is going to do anything wrong on a block where they know people are calling. If anyone needs any information on block clubs or phone trees, call 17th district CAPS." That number is 312-742-4588.
A resident asked about the locations of troubled buildings in the ward. Nugent said her office is working to share information with various agencies but could not give addresses. "If you have a troubled building, please call 911 on it," Pontecore said. "The first question we get when qualifying these buildings is, ‘How many calls have there been?’"
The city has also deployed a small team of violence interrupters, according to Kerr. He said city officials have been working with the team to identify issues and specific locations of recent violence.
Kerr said violence interrupters are people who have relationships with various gangs throughout the city that work to settle disputes before they become violent. They might have previously been involved with these groups or are otherwise connected and are now working to prevent violence and minimize the need for police involvement.
Pontecore said the root causes of gang involvement are numerous. He said in some cases it’s ingrained in families over several generations but some people get lured in with promises of money and camaraderie.
"Policing is one piece of the pie," Nugent said. "We need mental health counseling, after school programs and mentoring." She said that pre-COVID opportunities for the ward’s youth are now lacking, with the temporary closures or reduced hours of arts programs and other youth resources.
"We also need to identify what’s out there," Kerr said. "What is the inventory of services? We need to do some sort of analysis and determine what’s missing. We can’t intervene in generational gang involvement if we don’t have certain programs."