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Far North Side Residents Uneasy as Violent Crimes Increase in Their Neighborhoods

Two years ago, Marilou Kessler was holding a dinner party at her East Rogers Park house, when two of the couples invited were mugged upon arriving in the neighborhood en route to her home.

A few years before that, Kessler’s son, then in his 20s, was also mugged. Kessler —who has lived in the area more than 30 years—said she feels like the “neighborhood nut,” because when there’s any kind of meeting on safety, she stands up and complains that nothing has been done on Morse Avenue—which is just a few blocks from her house— in more than a decade.

“It’s like nobody cares,” Kessler said at a Nov. 16 public safety seminar held at the Loyola Park fieldhouse. “I don’t go out. I feel like I’m trapped.”

Kessler’s sentiments echoed many of those expressed by some of the more than 30 people who attended the forum, held by state Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago) and state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago). Osterman scheduled the event after his office saw an increase in calls from constituents upset about crime in the Far North Side neighborhood.

“It’s getting darker out earlier, and we all have to protect ourselves and be safe,” said Osterman. “That doesn’t mean we have to be Charles Bronson. We just have to be aware.”

Osterman said he’s working to restore CeaseFire, an outreach program for at-risk youth whose funding was cut by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. CeaseFire is currently active only in the 11th Police Distict’s West Humboldt and West Garfield Parks, and also on the South Side in West Englewood.

Yet it should be restored in 16 other neighborhoods by Dec. 1, Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois said. Osterman said he hopes to have it up and running in his area by Jan. 1.

Osterman also said he’s working with the Chicago Public Schools to get Sullivan High School “a little more under control” and to offer after-school and put-kids-to-work programs. And Osterman said he’s working with the new police commander to address concerns.

“People gotta involved,” Osterman said. “They have to call the police and get engaged.”

Besides the usual suggestions such as attending CAPS meetings and calling 9-1-1, the most valuable information was offered by Officer Jim Olszanski, who holds preventative programs for the Chicago Police Department. Olszanski provided helpful tips on what to do if you’re a victim of robbery, purse snatching, burglary, pick-pocketing or other crimes. He told attendees to kick, scream and do everything in their power to escape if they are a crime victim.

“Act crazy if someone approaches,” Olszanski said. “Have a conversation with yourself.”

The 24th police district, which includes Rogers Park, West Ridge and part of Edgewater, is bounded by Howard/Juneway Terrace, Lake Michigan, Thorndale and the North Shore Channel. Between January and October 2009, out of 25 districts, the 24th ranked No. 24, meaning it had the next to the highest increase in violent crimes, which include murder, robbery, aggravated sexual assault and criminal sexual assault, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. Only one district ranked higher — or worse— the 14th, Shakespeare District, in the North Side’s Logan Square neighborhood.

Through October in the 24th District, violent crimes were up 7.7 percent from the same time last year with three murders, 48 criminal sexual assaults, 447 robberies, 117 aggravated assaults, and 194 aggravated batteries. The same time span in 2008—January through October— saw seven murders, 39 criminal sexual assaults, 416 robberies, 111 aggravated assaults, and 178 aggravated batteries, police statistics show.

However, overall index crimes— which include property and violent crimes combined — were down 5.1 percent from the same time period in 2008. Property index crimes include arson, burglary, motor vehicle theft and theft.

“It’s certainly a lot quieter than it was,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who sent his chief of staff to the meeting. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t significant issues to work on.”

Moore said Howard Street and Morse Avenue have improved considerably, “but there’s still work to be done,” he said. “They’re a work in progress.”

Kessler suggested a police outpost on Morse Avenue, where there was one several years ago. Jeanette Cotledge, president of the Birchwood Townhouse Association at Birchwood and Western, said in spots such as Morse Avenue, she has “a heightened sense of alert.”

“I’d like to feel safer,” she said. “I don’t feel as safe as I want to.”

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