I am writing to provide you an update on the recent shooting incidents in Rogers Park and let you know what my office and others in the community are doing to address the violence.
As of mid-August, homicides in Rogers Park were down by 75%. We had experienced only one homicide this year as compared to four in the same period last year. Shootings were down by nearly 43% (eight this year vs. 14 last year) and down 60% from two years ago (eight vs. 20).
The recent spate of violent gun incidents, starting in late August, reversed this trend and represented a horrible setback.
It began with a shooting incident on August 20th that left one person killed and two injured on the 7700 block of Ashland, continued in September with the murder of a young man at a Howard and Sheridan gas station and the shooting of another man at Pratt and Sheridan, and culminated in October with the murder of an innocent bystander on Glenwood south of Morse, the shooting of a teenage boy near Touhy and Ridge, and a shooting on Estes near Clark.
This recent increase in violence is of great concern, but the fact remains all gun violence is terrible and there is no such thing as an acceptable number of shootings.
I am in daily contact with 24th Police District Commander Roberto Nieves, who keeps me up-to-date on the strategies he is deploying and the progress of the ongoing investigations.
Though the shootings on Ashland and Pratt and Sheridan remain unsolved, police detectives using tapes retrieved from surveillance cameras were able to arrest the alleged assailant in the gas station shooting.
As you know, a Rogers Park school teacher was shot and killed nearly three weeks ago by an errant bullet fired by a gang member targeting a rival gang. The police were able to identify the intended victims, but unfortunately the targets were unwilling to identify their attackers. The police continue to examine video tapes from cameras located as far as a mile from the incident to look for additional clues that might reveal the assailants.
Earlier that same evening, a 15-year-old Sullivan High School student was shot in the back. I have since learned that this young man, a recently-arrived refugee with limited English, was a street gang recruitment target and was shot in the back when he refused to join the gang. He is now recovering at home. Police detectives are tracking down several leads and remain hopeful they will be able to identify and arrest the assailants.
Finally, a man who allegedly is a leader of a street gang was targeted for entering a rival gang’s territory as he dropped his girlfriend off at her home on Estes near Clark last week. He is refusing to cooperate with the police.
Police speculate this most recent incident on Estes may have been in retaliation for the gas station shooting in September, but the other shooting incidents are all unrelated.
Street gangs in Rogers Park, Edgewater and Uptown are now made up of small, leaderless sets of members bound together by personal relationships rather than geographic or narcotics-trade ties, an unintended result of the federal crackdown on Chicago’s street gang hierarchy in the early 2000s. The gang-related shootings today are almost always the result of personal insults and petty conflicts, often inflamed by social media posts. This contributes to an anything-goes culture among the several dozen teenagers and young men who identify with a street gang on Chicago’s far north side.
Gun violence is a complex, complicated, dirty business with roots in generations of racism and poverty, aided and abetted by gun laws designed to benefit gun manufacturers at the expense of public safety. No single “plan” can fix this, and no combination of strategies will improve things overnight.
I say this not to be defeatist, but to illustrate why true change will be achieved only through a holistic response, relying on good policing and community involvement in equal measure.
In the days following the murder of the school teacher and the shooting injury of the young Sullivan High School student, I secured from Mayor Emanuel additional police resources for Rogers Park. But this is only one small part of the solution. The police alone cannot reduce gun violence. It takes all of us.
Below is a list of actions taken by my office, the police, businesses, building owners, and our local neighborhood organizations that provide job training, youth mentoring, economic development, fair housing, and alternative dispute resolution:
1. Work with building owners to identify problem tenants or guests of tenants contributing to violent crime in Rogers Park.
My office meets regularly with the 24th Police District to review information on developing “hot spots” in or around residential properties. In particular, Officer Bob Dvorak, who serves foot patrol on Howard Street and Officer Cooper, who patrols on foot on Morse Avenue, are invaluable sources of information about who is hanging out where and what buildings need to address problems.
We then work with landlords to remove problem tenants from their buildings or put new practices in place to remove the opportunity for buildings to be used in illegal activity.
Example: As a result of information provided by tenants in a residential building, police were able to arrest gang members who had bullied a man with developmental disabilities into letting them take over his apartment.
2. Work with Sullivan High School and neighborhood elementary schools to keep their children safe.
We have an invaluable ally in Sullivan Principal Chad Adams, whose time working as an assistant principal Englewood’s Harper High School makes him particularly adept at navigating the threat of gangs to our young people.
Example: The street gang centered on Morse recently has begun targeting African refugees for recruitment. Last week, Principal Adams and I hosted a meeting with refugee resettlement and faith-based organizations to provide them with detailed information on the gang recruitment activities and strategies to help keep newly-arrived students safe from the gangs.
Example: Principal Adams has implemented a Restorative Justice Program at Sullivan. Restorative justice focuses on changing behavior, rather than simply punishing behavior. Rather than kicking troubled kids out of school, the program helps students take responsibility for their actions and make amends to the individuals they harmed.
The results: out-of-school suspensions at Sullivan are down 73 percent, incidents of misconduct have dropped 45 percent and average daily attendance increased from 80 percent two years ago to 90 percent today.
3. Work with local businesses.
Along with the Rogers Park Business Alliance and the police, we help businesses with crime issues and enlist their cooperation to install security cameras both inside and outside their stores.
Example: We counseled the Morse Avenue Dunkin Donuts on how to deal with gang loitering in their store, including the installation of security cameras connected to the City’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, requiring all non-paying customers to leave immediately, limiting paying customers to 20 minutes, and signing trespass complaints against those who refuse to leave, among other commitments.
4. Work with community residents to identify problem areas, document with calls to 911, and serve as court advocates.
Community policing efforts have always been strong in Rogers Park. Community residents attend beat meetings to work with the police who patrol their beat, identifying problem areas and devising solutions to address those problems. To find out the time and location of the beat meeting in your area, click here.
One element of community policing is court advocacy. Court advocates are community residents who volunteer to attend court cases of particular interest to the community, including court cases that might be at risk of judicial dismissal. This lets crime victims know they have our support and reminds the judges that the community will not stand for dangerous criminal activity.
We have seen that this simple activism results in more stringent penalties for crimes and an increased likelihood that a judge will order treatment for mental illness or addiction to help those defendants struggling with such afflictions get the services they need to become healthy members of society and end the cycle of violence.
Example: Over the last year, we have worked with police, community residents, property owners, and the City to tackle the prostitution problem around Clark, Estes and Greenleaf.
These efforts include making the area less attractive to illegal activity. We have added City lights in alleys and worked with homeowners to do the same. We have cut the brush and trees on both sides of the Metra tracks that help hide prostitution. We have asked property owners to light up their parking lots and install cameras. We are working with businesses to make sure they aren’t promoting or abetting illegal activity.
At the same time, we are working with outreach organizations to make sure the prostitutes who are the victims of sex trafficking know about opportunities to receive services.
5. Work with employers, service providers, our schools, and Cook County to help people turns their lives around.
We should recognize that most young people turn to gangs or criminal activity when they believe they have no other options. Early encounters with the criminal justice system serve as huge hurdles to securing full-time employment, which contributes to recidivism.
Example: Working with many community partners, I host annual job fairs and criminal record expungement seminars to help people clear their records, complete their GEDs and find gainful employment paying a fair wage.
Example: My office works closely with Trilogy, Thresholds, A Safe Haven, and other mental health providers to help people struggling with substance abuse problems and chronic mental health issues to get treatment so they can maintain an apartment and obtain employment.
Example: I am dedicated to bringing balanced affordable housing to all areas of Rogers Park, so that individuals and families can continue to live in safe, decent and affordable housing. When people pay no more than 30% of their income on housing, they can afford other necessities like utilities, medication, healthy food, child care, and education. In my years as alderman, I have been involved in creating over 1,000 new affordable units in the neighborhood run by responsible landlords.
Example: I asked and received assistance from Mayor Emanuel to secure a City Year grant for Gale Community Academy and its new principal, Augie Emuwa. City Year consists of teams of 18 to 24 year olds, who provide student, classroom, and whole school support for schools across the country, including Chicago. Principal Emuwa reports the City Year team at his school have already made a huge difference.
These are just a handful of the many things that my office and I are doing to address crime and its underlying causes. It is hard work. There is no “magic wand solution” to the crime problem. Generations of poverty, addiction, inadequate housing, and lack of educational opportunities cannot be solved overnight.
Pronouncements that we should “get tough on crime” may feel good, but they are simply empty rhetoric that leads nowhere. Instead, we must work together to create opportunities for all our children and young adults, so that everyone regardless of race, class or economic circumstance can enjoy peaceful, productive and hopeful lives.
We must continue to build trust between the police and the community they serve. We must continue to advocate for responsible gun safety regulations. We must work to ensure that all families have access to a quality education for their children.
The tasks are many, but we can all contribute in our own way to making our neighborhood safer. Attend a Community Policing Beat meeting, volunteer to tutor a student, become a mentor, sit with your neighbors on the front porch and chat with people walking their dogs, and get to know one another. All of these activities contribute to a safe and welcoming community.
I will continue to keep you informed of our progress on all these fronts and look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead, as we work toward our goal of a safe community for all.