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Albany Park Community Meeting Raises More Questions Than Answers

By Patty Wetli | Thursday, January 19, 2012

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy spoke at last night's 17th Police District community meeting in Albany Park. Credit: Sarah Tilotta.

Close to 300 residents of the greater Albany Park and Ravenswood Manor community packed the auditorium at Our Lady of Mercy Church, 4432 N. Troy St., Wednesday night to voice their concerns about increased gang violence in the neighborhood and to hear how Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy intend to combat the problem. (Ald. John Arena, 45th; Ald. Margaret Laurino, 39th; Ald. Tim Cullerton, 38th; and State Rep. Deborah Mell also attended.)

Tree Kuberski’s garage was broken into shortly after Thanksgiving. “I’ve lived here since 1987,” she said. “In the ’80s and ’90s, I left the house unlocked; I don’t do it now. There’s no reason I should be unsafe in my home.”

“I hear gunshots going off at night. I can tell the difference from what it’s been like before. It’s more violent,” said a resident who preferred to be identified solely as Harry. “I’d like to hear a plan of action.”

After a three hour meeting, many residents felt Police officials failed to provide a clear path forward.

Though the alderman’s office had solicited comments via email prior to the gathering, giving attendees the impression that these topics would then be systematically addressed, following opening remarks by McCarthy the meeting quickly devolved into an open mic free-for-all. The vocal crowd frequently booed what they considered to be inadequate responses from Ald. Mell and jeered long-winded neighbors who veered wildly off topic.

Frustration was palpable as McCarthy and 17th District Commander Melissa Staples (on the job for 11 months and uniformly lauded by attendees for her accessibility) delivered progress reports at odds with attendees’ personal experiences. Where McCarthy listed some impressive statistics: 700 members of the Maniac Latin Disciples arrested in 2011, more than 4,400 firearms confiscated, and 500 officers shifted from administrative positions to street patrol, attendees disagreed that much progress had been made.

“I don’t see any squad cars,” said Ray Steigerwald, a 70-year resident. “We don’t see police on the street.” Suggesting that many of the reassigned officers were likely approaching retirement age, he asked Superintendent McCarthy, “Are these people qualified to be chasing young kids?” McCarthy’s response: “That’s not something I can address.”

Becky Deakyne lost her son Leon, age 17 to violence in the Albany Park neighborhood in December 2011. Credit: Sarah Tilotta.

Commander Staples noted that the 17th District ranks third in the city for the largest reduction in major crimes and pointed out that shooting victims have decreased from 34 in 2009 to 25 in 2011. Yet attendees repeatedly said they were feeling less, not more, safe.

Members of the Irving Park Concerned Neighbors Association turned out in force to ask for increased patrols, disturbed by baseball bat beatings taking place on their front sidewalks and shootings in their alleys. “[Beat] 1723 is our biggest problem,” conceded Staples. With 202 officers covering a district that measures 10 square miles, home to six active gangs and more than 100,000 citizens, “It isn’t possible to be on every corner at once,” she said.

That wasn’t the response Kip Conwell and Chloe Jensen had hoped to hear. The couple are raising their two small children in Albany Park and while fully aware of the pros and cons of city living (“I grew up near Irving and Kimball,” Jensen said) they didn’t anticipate having to call 9-1-1 a half-dozen times in a single weekend. “I’ve never heard so many gunshots,” said Jensen. “I feel like our house has been encircled by violence.” Two murders took place in their alley and recent shootings have occurred in broad daylight. “I worry about the safety of my kids,” she said.

“I love our neighborhood; all our neighbors are here tonight. I want to stay, but this is not how I imagined raising my kids,” added Conwell. “We do feel a bigger police presence would make a difference.” Though encouraged by the large turnout for the meeting, the pair felt the conversation was lacking in particulars. “I feel quite helpless,” said Jensen. “I’m not confident it’s going to change.”

If the meeting highlighted anything, it’s the gulf that exists between community expectations–put more cops on the street–and McCarthy’s long-term approach to policing strategy. “We can’t arrest ourselves out of crime,” he said.

Poverty, education, dysfunctional families, these are the root causes of crime, according to McCarthy. “If we’re not in control of the causes of crime, how can we cure crime?” Instead, his goal is to form coalitions with elected officials, faith-based organizations, schools, community organizations, community service providers and businesses to tackle these broader issues. “We can’t do it all by ourselves.”

Fo Albany Park and Ravenswood Manor residents looking for tangible steps to take to reduce violence beyond “call 3-1-1-, call 9-1-1, be our eyes and ears,” coalition-building was more than they bargained for. Plainly stated by the Irving Park neighbors: “Right now we have a crime problem in our district and we’d like to see more resources.”

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  • Anonymous

    McCarthy’s comments are BS.  Crime in New York City has plummeted in the last two decades.  How?  Putting more cops literally on the street.  If CPD had more cops actually walking the streets, we could very well see similar results

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7KWFYOWNVWTUTQGQJW4DHZHM7Y EricF

    Ms. Deakyne’s son was a Familia Stone, a gangbanger with a long rap sheet.  He was shot while hanging out with his friends in the gang.  She had the nerve to complain to the police for not saving her son.  It was one of many of the evening’s low points.

    • Anonymous

      You must be one of the cops  from the 17th. Just so everyone know there are 4 Latin Kings and 3 SGD’s  and 1 LaFamilia at the 17th . Hanging out, he had just be to McDonalds  and was on his way back. He was dropped of at 7:10 and on his way back he went into a store to get a pair of gloves with a girl came out and a gunman came out of the alley and started shooting. He was shot at 7:40 a half hour after drop off. Now his time of death was a hour later. Now the cops had 2 mothers up there Leon’s mother was the second. There was a tape of the shooting. The cops do not contact Leon’s mother at all. All the information that she has, has come from eye witnesses and off the street. So the cops are lazy. To much chicken and Pizza or lets not forget the 7-11 and dunkin donuts.  With a tape there could be a arrest.
      Lets get into cops who don’t do their jobs, but like the other side of life. There has been in the news a lot of cops in gangs, beatings, stungun abuse,kiddy porn, lets not go to the general abuse of power, or steeling.  Now that is what has been in the news in the last month. Maybe they are to busy being dirty to do their jobs.
      The boy had finished high school, signing up for college and school loans, had a job, yes he did have a past but he was turning things around. Some of the word is that he got shot because he was leaving Chicago to get away.
       It sounds like you are justifying his death or at least the cops not looking for his killer.
      A cop killer can be found in a week, a teenagers killer doesn’t even merit a looking into.
      She has every right to demand the cops look for her son’s killer.
      Do you say the same of the boy on Kedzie and Lawrence, or just because Leon’s mother came to the meeting?
      This community needs some fresh blood. People who will do something instead of just talk for the community. Who cares about New York.
      We need police on the streets, not on the phones or eating all the time, maybe there would be less crime if the cops made their presence seen more, like they are suppose to.
      The streets are only safe for the cops not for the rest of us.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7KWFYOWNVWTUTQGQJW4DHZHM7Y EricF

    Also… crime is down here, too, BG.  I know it’s frustrating to live around crime, here or NY or where ever, but there’s no reason to disseminate misinformation.

    • indyin

       So how about those stats homicides down but police can only solve 30% of them(info from a CBS report) the police are paid good , especially when they only have to product at 30%. In the private sector they would not have a job at that rate. It took the city 1 year to figure out the police is at a such a low rate. So lets label all shootings as gang and not do anything, “let them all kill each other off”. The job of the police is to do better than 30%. Most of them are paid well. The pay rates are public information.  Yes we need the police to do their jobs! Maybe if they did their jobs we would not have so many problems,  people know they can get away with what ever they do.

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