River North residents lob tough questions at new police commander
Loop North News

Crime & Safety

(Above) A man does a handstand in the middle of State Street at 3:12 a.m. on August 2 as Chicago police respond to a large crowd near State & Hubbard. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

River North residents took to Zoom with tough questions for a new police commander – and an alderman trying to make public safety a key issue but clearly frustrated with a mayor he says is not giving CPD enough money and a State’s Attorney not keeping criminals behind bars.

23-Sep-21 – Hundreds of questions submitted in advance of a public safety webinar on Tuesday reflected a perception by residents that violent crime in River North has spiked.

The webinar, hosted by River North Residents Association, featured 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly and the new commander of Chicago Police Department’s 18th District, Jon Hein.

RNRA Public Safety Chairman Joe Vietri called it an “unprecedented overall level of concern” about public safety by RNRA members who, he says, believe that shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, and carjackings are up in their neighborhood, while police visibility is down.

Joe Vietri

“Residents who have lived here for 25 years say they never experienced anything like the incidents and frequency that has been occurring over the last few months,” said Vietri (left). “Everyone loves the neighborhood but they’re afraid to go outside, especially at night, and worry about negative impact on the business community, property values, and overall quality of life.”

In addition to violent crime, residents complain of gatherings of large groups, aggressive panhandling, drug dealing, drag racing, loud motorcycles, graffiti, and other nuisances in a downtown neighborhood full of entertainment and hospitality venues. Notable crime hotspots include A. Montgomery Ward Park and the 400 block of North State Street.

Twenty-one days into his new job, Hein told residents that despite the perception, crime in general is down from last year.

“River North is probably one of the safest spots to be in the city,” said Hein (right). He says public perception of crime is influenced by seeing reports of a crime “over and over” on news and social media.

Jon Hein

Hein says he usually has enough police officers to respond to incidents and can borrow more if needed.

“I’m a big fan of proactive policing,” he said. “And we like to...study the data-driven analysis and we’ll deploy the officers to those locations more. So if I need an increase in officers, we’ll move certain officers. I’ll be in constant contact with Deputy Chief [Michael] Barz if I need. And he’s very, very good at loaning or giving us extra officers from his unit to address these issues.”

Chicago Police Department

Hein says they are towing by the truckload illegally-parked vehicles and loud motorcycles operating in violation of ordinances. An ordinance that took effect on June 7 gave police more reasons to impound a vehicle.

(Left to right) Community Safety Team Deputy Chief Michael Barz, 1st District Commander Jacob Alderden, and Critical Incident Response Team Deputy Chief Michael Piggott near Wabash & Washington in the Loop.

“We partnered up with [Chicago Department of] Streets and Sanitation for the tow trucks,” said Hein. “And there’s actually up to six tow trucks every Friday, Saturday, and probably Sunday. And we also have a couple flatbeds that are able to tow up to ten motorcycles. So that’s been a huge tool, being able to tow the motorcycles.”

Reilly predicts ‘bitter’ budget battle with mayor

River North residents will continue to see increased police activity, assured Reilly. He says there are now more foot and bicycle patrols throughout River North, and he has been told by Hein that “this level of response will be the ‘new normal’ until crime in River North is under control.”

Reilly says he will press Mayor Lori Lightfoot for more overnight patrols.

“We have good police coverage down here during the daylight hours,” said Reilly. “I don’t think anyone argues that. But when we creep into the evening hours, especially on the weekends, our police are buried in an avalanche of calls for service. And if you have more calls for service than you do officers, you know how that’s going to work out.”

Whatever crime-fighting tools the new commander needs, Reilly says he “will fight like heck, tooth and nail, to get it for him.”

Reilly says the city should be spending more on recruitment and training of police officers, to catch up with a loss of about 1,900 officers in the past two years. The figure, he says, includes 1,100 officers who left the police department and 800 who were reassigned to specialized police units.

“We’re going to have a very, very bitter debate over the city budget this year,” said Reilly (right). “And a lot of that’s going to be around the police department. There are different ideologies on the city council. And unfortunately, some of my colleagues don’t have the same appreciation that I do for the men and women in blue that keep us safe.”

Brendan Reilly

“And there are those who think we should be defunding large chunks of the police department budget at precisely the time we need to be doubling down our investment,” he said.

Lightfoot presented her budget recommendations for 2022 to the Chicago City Council on September 21. She said her $16.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2022 “will allow us to build a stronger and more prosperous city where residents feel safe, communities and businesses thrive, and city services are both responsive and accessible.”

Frustration with State’s Attorney and Chief Judge

Reilly says Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, tasked with prosecuting county residents accused of crimes, is not as aggressive as she should be.

“Our police officers are catching the bad guys,” he said. “The problem is they’re catching the same bad guys over and over and over again.”

He says sometimes accused criminals are back on the street within hours.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

(Left) Chicago police respond to a shooting at about 2:15 a.m. on September 2 near State & Illinois in River North.

“I care about the safety of our neighborhoods, and when criminals aren’t properly prosecuted or the State’s Attorney’s office finds excuses not to file charges, we pay the price,” said Reilly. “The State’s Attorney needs to decide whether she wants to be a State’s Attorney or a public defender.”

He had no kinder words for Timothy Evans, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. He says increased use of electronic monitoring of those awaiting trial in Circuit Court is not working.

Said Reilly: “The idea that we’re putting...accused murderers back into the very neighborhood they’re terrorizing – on electronic monitoring – makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

750 people registered to watch the webinar, according to Reilly.

 Video: RNRA Virtual Public Safety Webinar

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

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