At last week’s first 47th Ward Council meeting, thirty-five concerned neighbors sat in the basement of the Ravenswood United Church of Christ, ready to discuss pressing community concerns with Ald. Ameya Pawar. For forty-five minutes Pawar discussed meeting logistics, answered questions about pedestrian safety and TIF spending, and then he asked if anyone had any other questions.
The room was silent, so Pawar put it to a finer point. “Any questions about the 19th Police District?”
Again silence, until a voice piped up, “Why don’t you tell us about it?”
This response, from some of our community’s most concerned, most active citizens, seems to be emblematic of how much we care about our police protection.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to merge the 19th District police station with the 23rd District to the east is the one of the biggest changes in our area – ever. And yet the community response has been just about bupkis.
Not everyone has been quiet. The Northcenter Neighborhood Association sent a tersely worded letter to Mayor Emanuel. And other neighborhood groups have expressed uneasiness.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes the south end of 19th District has been vocally upset, but he’s got two police districts closing in his ward. Residents in Ukrainian Village, which he represents, are losing the 13th Police District station. They have been demonstrating and petitioning.
But Ald. Pawar, whose ward is almost entirely covered by the 19th Police district, seems downright okay with the change.
“We’ve been reassured that merging districts is going to put more officers on the beat,” Pawar told Center Square Journal two weeks ago. “So that’s a good thing.”
Last week, The Chicago News Cooperative released an analysis of Chicago Police manpower allocations. They found that the 19th District, with 217 assigned officers, had 230 violent crimes in the first eight months of 2011. The 23rd District, with 191 assigned officers, had 311 violent crimes during the same time period.
Aldermen briefed by Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy say the department plans to realign police coverage in the old 23rd and 19th Districts according to crime levels. Knowing what we know about current crime levels, where do you think most the police officers are going to be assigned?
It won’t be Lincoln Square or Roscoe Village, that’s for sure.
As someone who spent close to fifteen years working in politics, I learned two lessons that can be applied here: “You don’t get anything without asking.” And, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Privately, local leaders have told me that they think the Chicago police force need to be realigned. There are lots of neighborhoods worse off than ours, so we can afford to give up a few officers on the beat. On top of that, Mayor Emanuel lives in the soon-to-be-eliminated 19th District. He wouldn’t let his home area get too bad, right?
Let’s address Mayor Emanuel’s interests first: Unlike previous mayors who stuck to their home neighborhood through thick and thin, Emanuel has made it clear many times he wants to be mayor of the whole city, not just where he grew up. Oh and yeah, he didn’t grow up in Ravenswood. It’s just a place he lives now. So how much loyalty do you think he has to the 19th District? Not much.
On the idea of supporting good distribution of police, let me ask you this: What happens when things go bad? Like a property crime wave? Or a pair of murders? Or if gang violence from Albany Park begins to spill east over the River? If we don’t lodge our complaints now, we’re going to have a hard time making an argument when we really need someone to pay attention.
Folks, we ain’t asking and we ain’t squeaking. And while it’s nice to think that we’ll be taken care of when we need it, maybe we should be making a bit more noise now so that City Hall will pay attention later on. Think of it as an insurance policy.