Safety issues took center stage at the 4th Ward town hall meeting on July 18 held by Alderman Sophia King. Also speaking were 1st Police District Commander Robert Klich and Sergeant Athena Mullen.
“I am happy to have a ward that has diverse demographics, assets, and offerings,” said King after noting she has been alderman for three months.
Her first initiative was to extend the Safe Passage program, which provides safe routes for students traveling to and from school. King is working with 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell on this initiative and others.
“Jobs and engagement opportunities are needed for youths,” she said. She also feels “communities need to take responsibility and join CAPS,” the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program in which local civilians work with police to stop crime. “Positive voices move away negative aspects,” she added.
King’s other priorities include safety, affordable housing, good schools, parity “in all matters,” and youth engagement.
Other issues raised during the meeting included safe driving, noise pollution from the many festivals in Grant Park, park cleanliness, the Black Lives Matter movement, the South Loop’s shortage of parking, and a billboard. During the meeting’s open mic session, a Printers Row business owner voiced her concern about a homeless individual who sleeps in front of area storefronts.
“A restraining order has been processed, but he continues to sleep in front of our doors,” she said, noting the man allegedly has threatened several people. “We have called the police many times, but he continues to return.”
Klich explained the police homeless outreach team addresses these issues. An audience member, Ron Gordon, who works with the group People United for Action, said that “if homeless people express threats, then the police can hold those individuals for 48 hours.”
Anyone who needs shelter or knows of a person who is homeless and needs assistance can call 311 to be connected to the City Department of Family and Support Services and Catholic Charities Mobile Outreach Service, or log on to http://goo.gl/SxNuR8 for more about the City’s homeless outreach and prevention program.
Janet Wilson, a Prairie Shores resident in Bronzeville, said increased access to the 31st Street Beach at 31st and Vernon Streets has created traffic congestion and an inordinate amount of trash, including empty liquor bottles.
“There are people who are up to no good,” she said. “They are ignoring stop signs, double parking for up to an hour to hold a conversation with someone in another car, and other infractions.”
Said King, “I have responsibility along with the Park District and the police” for keeping the area safe.
Klich advised people to call 911 instead of 311 in these situations. Concerning Pritzker Park at 310 S. State St., an attendee noted the concerted effort by academic institutions, police officers, and Chicago Transit Authority officials to address cleanliness and loitering issues, and invited King to attend meetings about the park. She said she “would be glad to” and was “pleased that the community was actively participating in correcting the problems.”
Loud music concerns
“Use of Grant Park for profitmaking as well as not-for-profit groups starts in spring and continues throughout the summer, and there is loud music that starts in the early morning hours,” complained Tony Licata, a resident of Michigan Avenue at 9th Street. He added that the South Loop now has a population similar to that of Lincoln Park and that, with the festivals and other activities in Grant Park, Columbus Drive often is closed, creating even greater traffic congestion on Michigan Avenue.
He asked King to make it a goal to cut back the Grant Park activities and have them distributed throughout the City. She agreed, saying, “There has to be a balance between this community and the rest of the city,” adding that more community input would help.
Another Michigan Avenue resident in the South Loop complained about lack of parking due to development on various open lots once used for parking. King said if public transit is readily available to specific sites, developers are not obliged to provide parking beyond the legally required number of spaces. She added she would pursue the matter further with developers.
South Loop resident Dennis McClendon expressed concern about a billboard scheduled to go up at Clark and Harrison streets. King acknowledged the billboard has caused some controversy and will look into the matter.
Another resident asked about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“By law, everyone is allowed to protest,” Klich said, but “blocking traffic and running through streets, are not lawful.” He added that “a great deal of leeway has been granted to protestors and demonstrators in general.”
Clergyman Ricky Duke said a City task force concluded that bias exists among police against blacks. “What is being done about creating trust?” he asked. Klich said that, when he took his oath many years ago, he was told, “You are neither black nor white, you are blue,” and noted that “more training and more vigilant screening [of police hires] have been established to deescalate the situation.” He added that use of guns by police is the last resort.
“Lethal force is not preferred by police,” Klich asserted.
To contact King’s office, call (773) 536-8103. To contact the 1st District Police, call (312) 745-4290.
By Marie Balice-Ward
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