One man grabbed his children and took cover in his home as gunshots were fired last month along Sunnyside; Ald. Sposato holds meeting to discuss recent violence in Jefferson Park area
by BRIAN NADIG
A resident in the 5500 block of West Sunnyside Avenue was with his 4-year-old daughter letting their dog out when suspected gang members in two vehicles drove by their home shooting at each other at 8 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 22.
The man said he grabbed his daughter and her younger sibling and took cover in the rear of the house. “We didn’t know where (the gunshots) were coming from,” he said at a Feb. 8 safety meeting hosted by Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th). About 40 people attended the two-hour meeting at the Portage Park Senior Center, 4100 N. Long Ave.
“I was absolutely terrified, with (vehicles driving) 60 mph shooting at each other with my 3-year-old,” another resident said.
One resident said that he has not ruled out moving. “I called my realtor and started the conversation,” he said.
About 20 to 30 gunshots were reported over the 4400 block of Milwaukee Avenue and the 5100 to 5500 blocks of West Sunnyside Avenue. No one was reported injured.
Officers later found four different types of shell casings, an indication there may have been multiple shooters in each vehicle, according to police. No arrests have been made in connection with the incident, which remains under investigation.
“We are actively pursuing this gang issue,” 16th (Jefferson Park) District commander Maureen Biggane told residents. She added that a gang conflict in the neighboring 17th (Albany Park) District has been spilling over in the 16 th District, and problems can occur when the paths of rival gang members cross.
“They are not actively gang banging out on the street right now,” 16th District tactical lieutenant Terry Forbes said of the Jefferson Park area. He said that instead of selling drugs on the street, area gangs — with the assistance from social media — are delivering to their customers.
Social media also may be fueling some of the gang tensions, causing conflicts to escalate quickly, Forbes said. “They get a lot of feedback … the Facebook ‘Likes,’” he said. “It has to be be bigger and bolder next time.”
The district’s new Strategic Decision Support Center monitors social media for gang issues, Biggane said. The center gives the district access to police observation cameras and other technology in a effort to give real-time crime pattern information to officers.
Also discussed at the meeting were concerns that the unusually wide with of Sunnyside attracts problems, as gang members as many others do are using it as a cut-through to avoid heavier traffic on Montrose and other main streets.
A 60-year-old-man recently was shot in the head during a possible road-rage incident at Sunnyside and Major avenues, police officials said In addition, in March of last year, a man was fatally shot near Sunnyside and Laramie avenues, and two suspected gang members with funds and drugs were arrested near Sunnyside and Linder avenues.
A resident recommended that speed humps be installed on Sunnyside as to help slow down traffic.
Sposato said that speed humps are “controversial” and that neighbors often don’t agree on their necessity.
Alderman James Gardiner, whose 45th Ward starts a block north of Sunnyside, said that even if the vast majority of the residents on a block sign a petition in support of speed humps, the final determination is made by the city Department of Transportation, which studies the feasibility.
In addition to Sposato and Gardiner, state Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19) and County Commissioner Bridget Degnen (D-12) and a representative of state Senator Robert Martwick (D-10) attended the meeting. Sposato called the meeting to address concerns about violence along Sunnyside.
Spsoato said that residents must call 911 when they see suspicious activity, as the Chicago Police Department uses statistics on the number of service calls to determine how personnel and other resources are allocated.
Forbes said that it is important for residents to report gunshot sounds to police and not just post about it on social media. He said that officers will try to verify the shots by looking for shell casings, which are recorded in a database that is used in investigations citywide.
Overall reported crime is down 5 percent this year in the district when compared to the same period in 2021, but statistics don’t necessarily tell the full story, Biggane said. “If you don’t feel safe … then we need to do something different,” she said.
“I know we have our issues, (but) this is the safest district in the city,” Sposato said.
Sposato expressed concern about how city is going to keep up with the rate of officers either retiring or leaving to work in another city. “People are leaving at an expedited rate,”he said.
The city is on pace to hire about 700 new officers, based on the number of applicants and past history, but that is unlikely to cover the expected losses, Sposato said.
Both Sposato and Gardiner said that they are open to funding more POD observation device cameras, which Biggane said assist in investigations.
The cameras often include license plate reader technology, which helped detectives identify a vehicle used in a recent murder outside an unlicensed social club at Lawrence and Central avenues, Gardiner said. Five POD cameras were installed last year in the 45th Ward.
Sposato said that he had a camera installed at Irving Park Road and Central Avenue.
Both Sposato and Gardiner said that they plan to hold additional safety meetings. Gardiner recently held a meeting in Gladstone Park.