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At a neighborhood meeting July 9 called after a wave of incidents in the Second Ward, Alderperson Peter Braithwaite and police officials stressed the role residents can play in helping quell criminal activity.
At the meeting, held at the Robert Community Center, many of the roughly 40 residents who filled the room added their concerns after police reviewed what Interim Police Chief Aretha Barnes described as a recent “uptick” in criminal activity in the area. The ward includes the Evanston Plaza shopping center at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue as well as streets close to the high school.
Police Sergeant Scott Sophier, who heads the Department’s Community Strategies unit, focused on 21 incidents that occurred over the last month in the Ward: assault, battery and aggravated battery, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, two robberies, six general thefts, a theft of a catalytic converter, a retail theft, and an unlawful use of a weapon.
An incident that rocked the ward recently was an arson/explosion that occurred on the 1400 of Brown Avenue after midnight June 8. There were no injuries, and Evanston police detectives were joined by the State Fire Marshal and Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and Explosives agents investigating the incident.
The involvement of outside agencies is normal in such incidents because of the evidence-processing procedures, which may go beyond the capabilities of the crime lab Evanston police use, Sgt. Sophier explained.
Ten days after the arson/explosion, police responded to an aggravated battery in the 1400 block of Grey Avenue. In that incident, a 33-year-old Chicago resident suffered a non-life threatening gunshot wound, Sgt. Sophier said.
The man had been walking in an alley on Lake Street between Grey and Hartrey Avenues when he was shot by an unknown person, Sgt. Sophier said. Detectives continue to work the case in an active investigation, he said.
Four days later, on June 22, police had an unlawful use of weapons case with shots fired in the 2400 block of Bradley Place.
Police learned at that time that a 22-year-old Skokie resident had shot himself in the hand and had then driven himself to the hospital. The man was charged with unlawful use of weapon as well as a drug-related offense.
On June 30, police responded to another unlawful use of a weapon in the 1400 block of Simpson Street. Officers heard what they believed to be shots fired, as well as a report of a vehicle fleeing the area. No one was apprehended at that time, but a vehicle was found with a bullet hole in it. The vehicle was not occupied and there were no injuries, Sgt. Sophier said.
Based on evidence collected from that incident, the department’s tactical unit did an “outstanding job” in the days after the incident, recovering the vehicle and identifying the suspect, he said.
Sgt. Sophier said, “We want to work together to solve neighborhood issues. “People often tell us, ‘Well, we didn’t want to bother you, we felt bad calling.’
“This is what we’re here for, and this is the service that you deserve as residents, so please be proactive in reaching out to us if it’s something we can help with,” he said, “because we want to be here to help you.”
Chairing the meeting, Mr. Braithwaite also urged residents to reach out, holding up his cell phone as an example of a tool that can be used.
“I think a lot of these things could be seen as somewhat random,” he said. “However, for those of you who live next door [to where an incident occurred] you may have information.
“Obviously, with the meeting tonight, we’re very concerned and want to get in front of this,” he said. “But I think the real message for everyone here is if there are things going on next door that for any reason you don’t feel comfortable with – you know that little sense that you get when something isn’t right – an activity you see looks suspicious – these are things it’s most important … to get to the Police Department.
“We let them as professionals figure that out for us,” he said. “It’s not our responsibility. It’s definitely not my responsibility to be a crime-solver. But these are trusted resources that our taxpayers paid for and, again, the goal is to keep everyone safe; and that’s my number-one priority.”
A number of residents took the opportunity to reach out to police at the meeting, relating concerns they had seen out in the community.
Several reported concerns about a group of motorcyclists gathering in a parking lot at Dempster Street and Hartrey Avenue. “Every single night it goes to like 1 o’clock in the morning,” reported one resident. Another resident reported that it was 3 a.m.
“If you go into the Valli parking lot, you’ll see skid marks people make,” advised another.
Sgt. Sophier thanked residents for the information, saying it would be relayed to the officers and police supervisors that work shifts in the area.
“We get this information [and] we can then can pass it to appropriate sources,” he said. “Our patrol officers, our traffic officers, community policing officers will all advised after this evening about the complaint,” he said.
Another resident complained about a group of young people gathering along Pitner Avenue sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning. “They’re just kids. I understand there’s nowhere to go during COVID,” she said. “But when I was a young person, I had a curfew I had to abide by,” she said, receiving a murmur of assent from the room.
Another resident asked police officials whether staffing in the area is sufficient.
Interim Police Chief Barnes said basic staffing stands at 10 officers plus all the Department’s specialty units and added, “That staffing varies from day to day.
“So you may have detectives out there, you may have other community policing units out there, you may have traffic out there, so there is always someone out there in addition to the two officers [assigned to the area] and in addition to the 10 officers assigned to the shift at the time.”
Sgt. Sophier also emphasized the resources the Department can summon.
“Those 10 are the 10 primary patrol officers,” he said, “but we have many specialty units, especially when there are major events that are going on. You can see 20 or 30 police officers during the daytime out in the community, depending on what that response is.
“Regardless of any of other questions regarding staffing, we are adequate for staff 24/7 to involve the community issues.”