It’s 8:00 at night and a group of a dozen or so individuals are hanging out in front of the currency exchange at Howard and Paulina across the street from the Howard “L” station. On another night, you might see them loitering at the corner of Pratt and Ashland or walking slowly up and down Morse Avenue. Are they members of a street gang? Drug dealers looking for customers?
These days, the people you see hanging out on the street are more often than not members of Rogers Park Positive Loitering, a group of Rogers Park residents who gather together several evenings each month to stroll through the neighborhood or simply “loiter” on certain street corners. Their sole purpose is to deter crime by their positive presence on the street.
On occasion, the positive loiterers will call 311 to report graffiti, a burned out street light, or some other city service need. They will also call the police if they observe suspicious activity. But most of the time they simply enjoy each other’s company, engaging in small talk and conveying with their presence the following message: “This is our neighborhood. We stand united. Criminals are not welcome or tolerated here. Our collective eyes are watching you.”
This month marks the two-year anniversary of Rogers Park Positive Loitering, which formed in September, 2011, after a series of drug and gang-related shootings in the Morse/Ashland/Pratt area. In the days following those shootings, scores of neighbors gathered on a nightly basis at the corner of Pratt and Ashland where one of the shootings occurred to demonstrate community solidarity against the criminal activity in the area.
These gatherings proved so successful at stemming the violence that the neighbors decided to formalize the gatherings into Rogers Park Positive Loitering. Several times each month, neighborhood volunteers participate in regularly scheduled “loitering events” in problem areas throughout the community, usually in groups of 10 to 20 individuals.
They may take a walk through the neighborhood or simply hang out in one place and have a barbecue (see photo on left). Nearly 200 community residents are a part of Rogers Park Positive Loitering and participate in loitering events when their schedule permits.
CAPS Beat 2431 Facilitator John Warner (pictured below) heads up the group. John is building on the success of previous “positive loitering” events organized by John’s predecessors, Rogers Park residents Kevin O’Neil andJayne Hoffman, who first organized positive loitering events on Morse Avenue in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
“We’ve built a very positive, diverse, peaceful network of regular neighbors who make our streets safe and curb negative activity simply by being a visible presence,” says John.
Similar positive loitering groups have been active and successful for several years in the Edgewater and Uptown neighborhoods.
“We’re non-confrontational. If we see something illegal occurring, we call the police. But in
general, we’re just out to observe and help guide police to problem areas,” says John Versical, one of the founding members of the Rogers Park group. “It’s been a wonderful community-building exercise,” he added.
The positive loiterers will mark their second anniversary with a neighborhood stroll this Friday evening, September 20th, beginning at 8 p.m. If you’re interested in joining them for this Friday’s event, or any future positive loitering event, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also visit the Rogers Park Positive Loitering Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/groups/rppositiveloitering/
I urge you to get involved in Rogers Park Positive Loitering. It’s a great way to meet your neighbors while at the same time keeping our neighborhood safe for everyone!