By Dermot Connolly
Several community groups concerned about recent crimes in the South Loop are working on creating a neighborhood watch group that will keep an eye on the area and notify the Chicago Police of any questionable activity they see.
Al Hippensteel, a neighborhood resident, said 150 people attended a Zoom CAPS meeting for Beat 123 in the 1st (Central) District on June 14.
“That’s enormous,” Hippensteel said. “It demonstrates how many of us became alarmed at the events that unfolded on June 5. Hippensteel was referring to an argument between two patrons of the Caribbean Jerk Chicken Palace at 733 S. Dearborn St. that spilled out onto the sidewalk.
One of the people involved allegedly pulled a gun out of a backpack and started firing. A bullet shattered a glass doorway across the street at Roots Pizza, 744 S. Dearborn St. “Luckily, no one was hurt,” said Hippensteel.
More than 400 people turned out for another community meeting on June 21, organized by several groups, including South Loop Neighbors, Printer’s Row Park Advisory Council, and South Loop Referral Group, which are leading the effort toward creating the neighborhood watch group.
Chicago Police Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (C.A.P.S.) unit personnel also attended the June 21 meeting.
The organizing groups intend to hold their next planning meeting at Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn St. The meetings usually take place at 7 p.m. Mondays, but as of this writing, organizers had not set the next meeting date yet.
Organizers will invite Ald. Sophia King (4th) and police representatives from the 1st District to the meeting, which will focus on what neighborhood residents and organizations can do to make the South Loop safer.
According to Roger Marsh of South Loop Neighbors, while crime in general is down in Beat 123, some violent crimes are up.
National Neighborhood Watch, formed in 1972 as a division of the National Sheriffs’ Association, is providing advice to the groups setting up the local neighborhood watch.
According to the national organization, neighborhood watch groups form a cornerstone of community policing, helping unite police and residents in fighting crime. The NNW provides training to help residents be “the eyes and ears for the police with a focus on being alert for suspicious behavior,” the organization noted, while avoiding vigilantism, which the organization condemns.
At a Citizen Advisory Board meeting on Aug. 4, organizers reviewed the vision, mission, values, objectives, and purpose for a neighborhood watch program. Organizers stated the main objective as “minimize the incidence of preventable crime.” Concerns can include other local problems, however, such as noise from gangs of motorcycle riders and drag racers or public urination.
Christine Cassata of the Printers Row Safety Group, which has partnered with Neighborhood Watch, presented chief concerns of neighborhood residents at the monthly C.A.P.S. meeting for Beat 123 on Aug. 10. Some of these included homeless people continuing “to use the area near 740 S. Federal Ave. as a toilet,” she noted, and how to deal with homelessness in general.
Plans call for the South Loop Neighborhood Watch group encompassing Police Beat 123 to organize by buildings or blocks within the beat’s boundaries, which are the Chicago River and Michigan Avenue and Ida B. Wells Drive to Roosevelt Road. Block captains will organize training sessions and events. A Citizen Advisory Board will provide overall guidance and assistance to block captains.
The only requirement for membership is an overriding desire for a safe, livable neighborhood and a willingness to participate in being watchful and partnering with the police in a positive and constructive manner, according to a statement by organizers.
Anyone interested in participating is asked to send an email with name, email address, phone number, and street address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Along with living in the community, Hippensteel is editor of the local Dearborn Express newsletter.
To contact the Chicago Police 1st (Central) District, located at 1717 S. State St., call (312)745-4290 or log on to https://home.chicagopolice.org/about/police-districts/1st-district-central/.
For more on C.A.P.S., log on to https://home.chicagopolice.org/community-policing-group/how-caps-works/. National Neighborhood Watch’s website is www.nnw.org. For the South Loop Neighbors, log on to southloopneighbors.org or call (312) 409-1700. For more information on the South Loop Referral Group, log on to Facebook at www.facebook.com/SouthLoopReferralGroup2015/ or call (312) 939-8888.