Darcy DeWolfe has seen a lot of changes in the Damen Avenue corridor since she moved into her Roscoe Village home back in 1998. A lot of those changes involve the explosion of large three-flat and single-family homes on the streets around her block. However, she says she and her neighbors have started seeing things they have never experienced before.
“We had the first break-in on our block last month,” says DeWolfe, who lives a half-block from Hamlin Park near Belmont and Damen Avenues. “Someone actually entered a house a few houses away, and a car stolen off our street was quite shocking.”
DeWolfe’s experience may be new for the people on her block, but it is familiar to people who visit or live near Hamlin Park. Despite an influx of upscale housing over the past ten years and improvements to the park which include massive light towers for the athletic fields, reports of serious crime have persisted in the area.
A Roscoe View Journal analysis of Chicago Police Department records shows 494 reports of serious non-domestic crimes (attempted and completed assaults, burglaries, drug-related offenses, robberies, thefts and vandalism) in a one-block radius around Hamlin Park between 2007 and 2011. After a peak of 115 crimes reported during 2009, reports have decreased the following two years and totaled 90 in 2011.
However, Chicago police responded to ten crimes in the area around the park during January of this year, including a shooting in the
3100 2100 block of Barry Avenue on January 26th. That’s a higher rate than the monthly average of each year between 2007 and 2011.
Many factors can contribute to changes in crime trends, and this year’s mild winter is certainly a factor in January’s relatively high rate. But that’s little comfort to many residents attracted by the park and the affordability of housing relative to Lakeview and Roscoe Village.
And the consistency of crime around Hamlin Park is a dynamic that area resident Charlie Beach is working to change. The criminal attorney has lived in the neighborhood since moving from Old Town in 2009 to accommodate his growing family. He now is leading the effort to “reconstitute” the Hamlin Park Neighbors association, and has made crime and safety around the park a top priority.
“I believed this was a safe neighborhood when I moved here, and I still believe it to be a safe neighborhood,” Beach said. He said the group has been talking to Chicago police, but “not as much as we would like.” And while its members want to see improved community patrols and a dedicated beat car assigned to the neighborhood on the overnight shift, they also are taking some matters into their own hands.
“We decided that when we see something, we’re going to be proactive about it. We’re going to report it immediately. We’ve been out to paint over gang graffiti and we’ve created a fund to do that,” Beach said. The group also has gotten the ear of Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd); Beach said the alderman’s chief of staff has attended every meeting of the Hamlin Park Neighbors group and taken their concerns to leaders at Chicago Police District 19.
But Beach says while there remains a small gang element in the area near the park, the neighborhood is much safer than it was some years ago. “We don’t see open drug dealing in Hamlin Park. The alley between Wellington and Clybourn used to be a shooting gallery. It doesn’t exist any more,” he said.
The next meeting of the Hamlin Park Neighbors is February 27th at 7pm at New Life Community Church, 2958 N. Damen Ave.
A note about our crime data analysis: We used crime reports from the City of Chicago data portal. Our filters included the specific borders of Hamlin Park (Barry, Wellington, Hoyne and Damen) as well as one block in either direction on those streets, in addition to adjoining segments of Seeley, Fletcher, Nelson, Hamilton, George and Oakdale. Our reporting excluded crimes described as domestic as well as reports not specifically tied to location, such as financial identity theft and illegal credit card use, though they are included in our dataset.