Traffic missions along Cicero Avenue announced following gunfire
by BRIAN NADIG
The 16th (Jefferson Park) and 17th (Albany Park) police districts are conducting traffic missions along Cicero Avenue in response to Dec. 22 gunfire that woke up many Portage Park and Jefferson Park residents.
“Why are we doing what we’re doing? The violent crime we’re talking about in this community is transient. It’s in cars,” 16th District captain Mike Barz said at a Dec. 29 public safety meeting hosted by Alderman James Gardiner (45th). “(Cicero) is a major thoroughfare where the drive-by shootings occur.”
About 125 people attended the meeting, which was held at Saint John’s Lutheran Church, 4939 W. Montrose Ave. Cicero is the border between the 16th and 17th districts.
No arrests have been made in connection with the Dec. 22 incident, but the recovered evidence, including a rifle and shell casings near the Cicero-Pensacola intersection, is being processed as part of the investigation, officials said.
The incident involved two vehicles and went on for blocks along Cicero.
The missions help create a police presence that deters criminals and have led to the recovery of illegal guns, police officials said.
“We’re trying to put more (officers) where we expect drive-bys, where we expect thefts … joint missions are where we think the crime is going to occur,” Barz said. One catalytic converter mission resulted in an arrest and three guns being found in the vehicle being driven by the offenders, he said.
In the 17th District there have been 80 arrests in 2022 that involved a suspect with a gun compared to 55 in 2021, according to 17th District commander Michelene Alexa.
“When we’re stopping these cars, we’re getting guns,” Alexa said. “Those 80 guns taken off the street represent 80 potential crimes.” She added that dozens of other guns also were removed from the street, but those incidents did not involve an arrest.
Alexa urged residents to report crimes to the police instead of worrying about being the “first” to post about it on social media. She said that decisions on where to deploy officers are based on the 911 calls and that those calls help identify crime trends.
Concerns also were raised at the meeting about a Sept. 12 incident in which gunfire damaged several homes on West Pensacola Avenue. The gunshots were fired from the 4700 block of Pensacola and traveled across Cicero, with one of the bullets hitting a closet in a home.
“I really want to be able to sit in my living room and feel confident and I don’t right now,” a woman said. “A neighbor sitting in the front room and a bullet goes through their window. A new neighbor on the block has a bullet in her door jam. … I’m thinking of selling my property.”
“You should absolutely feel safe in your home, and that’s our job, so I apologize … so we’re asking tact teams to stay late” to work when most of these crimes are occurring, Barz said.
Another resident said that he is thrilled to learn about the missions because an increased presence will help deter crime and that he would like to see more “street stops” but officers’ “hands are tied” with what they can and can’t do due to extra oversight.
The man said that 10 years ago property thieves were unlikely to carry a gun because they fear “enhanced prosecution” if arrested but nowadays many of these offenders are quickly back on the street, even if a gun was found in their vehicle.
Resident Brian Sullivan, who is running for the 17th District police council, said that armed gang members can be seen on social media bragging about how they’re out and looking for trouble, even announcing their location. He said that he’s been posting these videos to bring attention to the problem, calling for more police monitoring of social media.
After the meeting an officer said that gang members appear to be playing a real game of “Grand Theft Auto,” driving around and shooting someone who could be a rival. He added that they enjoy watching their mayhem on social media and that in recent years there is a noticeable increase in the number of gang members carrying guns.
At the meeting Gardiner told residents that he is seeking to have a Police Observation Camera with license plate reader technology installed at the Cicero-Montrose intersection, near some of the recent gunfire.
Gardiner also said that while he is disappointed Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown did not attend the meeting, the large turnout will not go unnoticed.
“This draws attention. The superintendent is well aware of this meeting. … I just talked to him today,” Gardiner said, adding that he and other Northwest Side aldermen are strong advocates for getting more officers in the 16th and 17th districts.
District commander Heather Daniel said that the district’s current staffing is somewhere between its highest and lowest totals.
Chicago Police Deputy Chief Rahman Muhammad said that the department is actively recruiting new officers not only in Chicago but in another cities and states. He added that the department also is focused on retaining current officers, who may be taking early retirement of jobs elsewhere.
In response to the concerns about the young age of some offenders, Muhammad said, “We’re constantly arresting juveniles for carjacking … and others crimes, (but) it’s a revolving door with the juvenile justice system,” he said.
“It’s terrible what we see … and it’s gotten worse,” Muhammad said. “We aren’t arresting our way out of this problem.”
Young people need to get involved in their neighborhood youth programs before the gangs can take them in, Muhammad said.