Crime and Community
By: Kathy Gemperle
Special Event and Historical Overview
On June 16, the Edgewater Historical Society general meeting hosted a panel discussion about the history of Community Policing. Robert Remer introduced the meeting with updates about the activities of the EHS.
Dorothy Nygren and Marty Stewart then showed the EHS DVDs about the Crime Exhibit and an oral history from Reggie Griffin, EHS board member and long time crime prevention activist. Morry Matson, the exhibit curator, spoke briefly about the successful exhibit.
Then Ed McClain, President of the TAHBS neighborhood organization, Safety Vice President for the Edgewater Community Council, and a veteran volunteer in community activities opened the panel by introducing Bob Remer as one of the early activists in crime prevention in Edgewater. Bob gave the historical background activities of the Edgewater Community Council. The three issues facing the community were Crime, Safety and Housing. They were intertwined. At the time, the community was “red-lined” by insurance companies and banks, which made it difficult for new people to buy in the neighborhood. This indicated a perception of crime that was difficult to change. The Edgewater Community Council and the Uptown Chicago Commission joined forces to begin the Edgewater Uptown Community Safety Program. Operation Whistlestop had already started and was maintained by a group of ECC seniors under the leadership of Mary Garrity. Whistles were mailed out to community residents to use when they saw crime happening. In the era before cell phones, making noise was step one in crime prevention. This program was expanded to a nationwide program and the volunteers were mailing whistles all over the country. A second step was to have more eyes and ears on the street. Thus began the Radio Patrol with volunteers driving around on weekends carrying walkie talkies and calling police if they encountered criminal activity. These early efforts were not always appreciated by the police who basically said, leave the crime fighting to us.
Warren Friedman, then an Edgewater resident, spoke about the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety (CANS), which he ran for over 19 years as the Executive Director. CANS was a diverse city wide coalition of community organizations, which included the Edgewater Community Council (ECC). The purpose was to enable communities to find ways to fight crime.
Among the groups that were causing trouble for the community were the Thorndale Jag Offs who were known as the TJOs. Two residential buildings in Edgewater were hangouts for these toughs. When they beat up a neighbor, the community had enough.
In 1982, CANS received a grant to work on Community Crime Prevention. This was organized by the CIS (Community Information Service) working with Vista Volunteers. Meetings were set up, but the organizing principle was that they had to be diverse so that no one group could invoke the term “they” in reference to the people committing the crimes. The groups in each neighborhood had to be interracial and people had to commit to working together. The Block Watch method was formed and each block had to participate by creating a phone tree and handing it in to the CANS organization. Block watch also involved additional training so that volunteers understood they were not replacing the police, just assisting them.
Community residents learned a great deal about working with the police and there seemed to be a new tone coming from the police commanders. Gradually more commanders wanted to work with the community. The head of the Chicago Police, Matt Rodriguez had a study done about the time use by officers and was able to show how policing could be more effective. A variety of names were used for these groups interacting with the police including Community Policing and Neighborhood Organized Policing. CANS trained 15,000 people in Chicago. Reggie Griffin served as the ECC representative to CANS; he also served as its city-wide President and Board Chair for many years.
In the early 1980s the program was brought to the attention of the Mayor and the Aldermen. Citizens want safe neighborhoods according to a study done at the request of the Mayor. A federal grant was available and another study was done by a University of Chicago professor, Rob Sampson. It showed that if people work together they can make a difference. There was some resistance from some aldermen because all this community activism brought out more people who might run for Alderman. Eventually CANS was replaced by CAPS with meetings in each beat of a district. Community organization chose Beat Reps who work with officers to find ways to prevent crime in their area.
The next speaker was Lynn Pierce, a community volunteer for 26 years, including with ECC, the Alderman’s office, her block club, EPIC, and now the Thorndale Action Task force. This organization has worked for the last 4.5 years to end serious crime on the 1100 block of Thorndale. An impressive number of organizations have worked on this, including representatives from TAHBS, NEBA, BARGE, ENN, EPIC, NET, EGA and ASCO. In addition the State Senator, State Representative, Alderman and a number of business owners, along with representatives from Senn and Swift schools, also serve on the Task Force.
The work of the task force is impressive: 1) Improved lighting on CTA station, Broadway Armory parking lot and on businesses along the block; 2) Over 32 surveillance cameras on the CTA, Swift School store fronts and two COP Cams, which are connected to the Police; 3) 3 p.m.-11 p.m. foot patrol by police; 4) Neighborhood watch posters placed in businesses, 8 businesses agree to be Safe Havens; 5) Positive loitering by groups of neighbors in the evenings; 6) Community activities such as pop-up galleries with Artists in Motion; 7) collection of monthly statistics on arrests and court cases; 8) community people at hearings on court cases. But probably, according to Lynn, the most significant change is the designation of the block as a “Hot Spot” which means it gets priority when a call goes into 911.
The last speaker was Jared Desecki, from Alderman Osterman’s office. He cited some significant improvements that the City has made including an adjustment to the curfew law so that children under 12 have an earlier curfew. The second is related to pawn shops. A new ordinance requires a registration with an ID in order to trade in a cell phone. But Jared also mentioned that there are some social media changes that are affecting crime. One is a program called Every Block and the other is Clear Path where you can text a tip. Additionally there is a police scanner “app” so anyone with a cell phone can hear what is going on with the police. These things can be both positive and negative.
This event was very informative and we thank the guest speakers for their dedication to our community.