Earlier this month about 50 people showed up to the community meeting for police beat 2311, demanding that police and 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman do more to deal with “gangbangers” they blamed for problems in their community.
The beat covers the chunk of Uptown from Montrose north to Lawrence and Broadway west to Clark. There have been a number of highly publicized shootings there this year, including several in broad daylight, and residents said they often encounter open drug dealing and loitering, even when they’re on their way to work in the morning.
They were looking for ways to fight back. Several people at the meeting discussed finding ways to crack down on lax landlords and store owners who allow loitering. A senior citizen suggested that the police conduct random searches of low-income buildings, but police politely noted that would be unconstitutional. One man wondered why there were so many police on the streets in Wrigleyville when they were needed in Uptown, and when Cappleman said he had no authority over police deployments, the man shook his head angrily.
A woman who lives near Truman College said the nearby blocks needed new lights because they had become a dark “dead zone” and she feared gangs were taking over. “My street should be called Black P. Stone Way,” she said.
Lieutenant Robert Stasch, leader of the district's tactical operations unit, encouraged the residents to communicate and work together. He also tried to put things into perspective, noting that while the shootings were a reason for concern, crime is far lower than it was a few years ago.
“This is the continuation of an ongoing gang dispute that’s been going on in this area literally for years,” he said. He added that police had arrested several gang leaders. “The investigations are ongoing.”
Such is the backdrop for Alderman Cappleman’s decision earlier this summer to remove the rims from a nearby park, Broncho Billy Playlot Park, on Magnolia just north of Montrose. The move has angered some neighbors and pleased others, as my colleague Kevin Warwick and I reported in this week’s Reader.
Our story has hardly ended the controversy. Since it came out, a number of people have posted comments informing us that the playlot and surrounding area are much more peaceful since the rims were torn down.
It’s true that, by most accounts, the park does seem to be quieter. Though several residents have written that it’s frequently “packed,” neighbors we spoke with—some of whom favored the rim removals and some of whom didn’t—told us it’s been used less. I’ve never seen more than a couple of people there on multiple warm-afternoon visits.
That’s par for the course, says Karen Clark, who has lived across the street from the park for 11 years. “It’s not only that kids used to play there—early in the evening you’d see fathers out there, and people getting their workouts in,” she says. “Now there’s nothing for the kids and teens to do.”
“I think it has helped,” says Carolyn Lewis, who lives about a block-and-a-half away and supports the rim removals. “There are fewer older people who aren’t supervising their children.”
Stockton elementary school shares grounds with the playlot, and principal Jill Besenjak has written an open letter arguing that the rims should be reinstalled. “Rather than taking down the nets at Broncho Billy,” she wrote, “we need to build awareness in the community of how to allow everyone to use the park for their enjoyment and its intended purposes.”
So the park could be half-full or half-empty, depending on your perspective.
Perhaps more significantly, there’s no hard evidence that removing the rims had any impact on crime in the surrounding neighborhood.
You can check out a table of the stats by clicking on this link, but here’s the gist: From June through the end of August, 75 violent and weapon-related crimes were reported to police in beat 2311, according to crime data posted on the city’s website. That’s one fewer than the number reported last summer.
In contrast, the violent crime count dropped significantly—from 96 to 76—between 2009 and 2010, though the rims were up the entire time.
One person was murdered in the beat this summer—the same as last year. No one was slain there in 2009.
Similarly, the total of all crimes, including things like thefts and public disturbances, fell by almost the same amount after the rims came down (14) as the year before, when the rims were up (13).
In fact, with the hoops out of action, several of the crimes troubling to neighbors—such as narcotics violations and assaults—saw increases. The year before, when kids could play ball there, drug crimes and assaults were down.
The bottom line: if there's a connection between the basketball hoops and neighborhood crime, the numbers don't show it.
As Lieutenant Stasch told us: “The calls we get for that park are very minimal.... Personally, I’m in favor of giving young people something to do.”