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Criminals, not Grinch, Stealing Christmas in the 33rd Ward

Residents can get safety information from Albany Park Community Center in the 33rd Ward.
Residents can get safety information from Albany Park Community Center in the 33rd Ward.

Are burglar alarms replacing Christmas carols as the new sign the holiday season has arrived?[pullquote]CAPS meeting addresses crime in Ward 33. Brings aldermanic candidates out, too. Read the story for details.[/pullquote]

The holiday brings joy and tradition but is also accompanied by a spike in violent crimes in the 33rd Ward, according to police representatives at the 19th District Chicago’s Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) beat meeting.

“We tend to see a rise in crime during the holiday season,” Sgt. Jason Clark, community policing officer, said during the CAPS meeting. “Let’s talk about this.”

Clark encouraged residents to call in suspicious activity and to be as detailed and descriptive as possible.

“You’re our eyes out there,” Clark said. “We depend on you all to let us know if something is happening.”

“It’s a scary time for many residents,” George Blakemore, 72, Chicago resident, said. “We have to learn to protect ourselves during this time because it’s hard for [police officers] to be all over this city.”

The 33rd Ward includes Albany Park, Avondale, Irving Park, Ravenswood Manor, North Park and North Center.

Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30 there were 155 crimes reported in the 33rd Ward, according to Chicago Police Department data. In just one month there was an average of at least five crimes committed every day.

The Albany Park neighborhood has shown an influx in criminal activity in comparison to the previous years, according to data collected by SimplyMap.

Albany Park is an immigrant community and is located a few miles away from Ald. Deb Mell’s 33rd Ward office.

The Albany Park neighborhood has 51,542 residents, according to population figures from the 2010 U.S. Census. Nineteen percent fall below poverty level with a per capita income of $21,323, according to city data portal.

On Oct. 28, two men were shot in the Albany Park neighborhood, according to the city data portal. The incident was briefly noted in a story published by the Chicago Tribune.

Carole Howard, 62, longtime resident of Albany Park, said she doesn’t feel the police are doing enough to keep her neighborhood safe.

“I don’t see police driving around anymore,” Howard said.

With such a vast area to cover, police officers are becoming more heavily dependent on technology for support, according to one officer.

The crime graph was created by using data set that reflects reported incidents of crime which occurred in the City of Chicago from 2001 to present, minus the most recent seven days, according to the website.

The data is extracted from the Chicago Police Department’s CLEAR (Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting) system and was filtered by Ward and crime.

In 2011, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) developed the CLEARMap web application to provide residents of the City of Chicago with a tool to assist them in problem-solving and combating crime and disorder in their neighbored, according the website.

Data portals, such as CLEARMap, Spotcrime, Neighborhoodscout, The National Sex Offender Public Website and Crimereports are reshaping the way communities work with law enforcement to stop crime, especially during the holiday season.

Information is critical for residents in order to protect themselves, Dan Dowling, detective for CPD said.

Neighborhood resident Howard said she doesn’t use the websites and if she did she wouldn’t know the first thing about searching for criminal activity information in her area.

“I don’t use computers to look for crime,” Howard said. “I turn on the TV or read the paper.”

She said she believes it is up to community leaders to reach out and talk to the neighborhoods no matter how cold it is outside. The aldermen need to show residents how to get involved and protect themselves, Howard said.

But Howard’s sentiments don’t fall on deaf ears. Aldermanic candidates of the 33rd Ward, Annisa Wanat and Tyler Solorio, are hearing Howard’s sentiments loud and clear. They agree it is up to community leaders to make connections and formulate conversations.

Wanat said she downloads crime reports from the 33rd Ward. She said she recently witnessed while campaigning some alarming behavior by residents.

“As you know I have just spent the last three months knocking door-to-door throughout the entire ward. It’s a little scary to me how many people in an apartment building if I buzz them and people just buzz automatically to let me in,” Wanat said.

Solorio, a former military policeman, attends the monthly CAPS meetings and said it’s important for the community to be connected and involved.

“[CPD] has said in CAPS meeting that they don’t have the numbers [of policeman] that they should,” Solorio said. “They said the patrol numbers are on the lower end.”

Solorio said the biggest problem isn’t the crime occurring in the neighborhood but the reason the crime is occurring. He attributes the poor utilization and saturation of police by the CPD in other areas like the South Side.

“The 17th District focuses on community policing. The biggest problem with it is the CPD is doing over saturation,” Solorio said. “They are putting a significant number of police in places like the South Side.”

Solorio said communication is a start when it comes to neighborhood safety. He said he witnessed neighbors as they called police during a criminal incident outside his apartment.

“My neighbors were proactively trying to engage the issue, which says a lot about the residents,” Solorio said.

The candidates acknowledged that Mell has updates and news on her website, including vacant building information under her pubic safety tab, which is provided by the Cook County Assessor’s Office.

The candidates also said the alderman’s office lacks community engagement and communication.

For a community that speaks multiple languages it’s important to have the resources available for them in different languages, Wanat said.

Mell’s 33rd Ward website does have a Google Translate link converting the English into any of the 80 different languages, but Wanat characterizes that as a poor tactic by Mell.

“People want their leaders to be able to speak and understand them in their language,” Wanat said. “A Google Translate button is not outreach.”

Google says the translations aren’t always perfect and that the translations are generated by machines, according to Google Translate website.

Wanat, who speaks five different languages, says the link shows good initiative by Mell, but isn’t good enough for the ward.

Wanat has her website translated in Spanish, Bulgarian, Serbian and Slavic, which is spoken primarily in Poland.

Solorio has parts of his website translated into Spanish.

Wanat said she believes dialogue in the individual’s native language is important for residents to feel safe in their ward.

She also said the Google Translate link was added by Mell’s office about two weeks ago after Wanat made public comments pertaining to this issue.

Blackemore agrees communication is the first step in dealing with crime.

“We need to talk to aldermen — our community leaders — and tell them we need answers,” Blackemore said. “Why so much crime and nothing being done about it?”

Mell wasn’t available for comment and left out the back door when a reporter attempted to meet her on Friday. Dana Fritz, Mell’s chief of staff, said he would be sure to get in touch by Monday, but missed the deadline for responding.

The CLEARMap data portal, which is the most widely utilized crime incident reporting mapping website for the Chicago Police Department, has been updating and posting daily crime incident reports since September 2011, according to its website.

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