New Initiative Prepares to Take the Bite Out of Crime at Chicago and Lake

With the launch of the new Crime Prevention and Security Collaboration in Midtown, the Third Precinct stands ready to test the old adage about an ounce of prevention.  Aimed at improving public safety at the Chicago and Lake intersection and surrounding area, the Security Collaboration is taking shape under the confident guidance of Renee Allen, CPS for the Midtown Safety Center.  The Phillips Partnership formally endorsed the Security Collaboration initiative at its March meeting, and Partnership staff is helping with the planning effort. 

Security Collaboration is a natural outgrowth of the new Safety Center, located at 2949 Chicago Avenue. Since opening last November, the Safety Center has brought a new brand of police presence to the area, one that is simultaneously stronger and more closely integrated with the community.  The Security Collaboration will build upon this relationship by forming a new coalition between the police department, transit police, area businesses, and the private security firms that they employ.

For a model, the Collaboration is looking to the First Precinct’s Downtown Safe Zone program, an initiative created during the summer of 2005 to tackle real and perceived public safety issues in downtown Minneapolis.  According to Luther Krueger, Crime Prevention Specialist for the First Precinct, the Safe Zone targets one of the more intractable public safety concerns in urban areas:  namely, the role that repeat offenders and their livability crimes play in determining whether people feel safe in their neighborhoods.   Relying on a strong partnership between the police and private security forces, the Safe Zone has seen significantly fewer Part One offenses compared to the rest of the City, and citizens report feeling safer downtown since the program began. 

Chronic offenders commit a similarly skewed proportion of livability crimes in the Phillips neighborhood, and the revitalization around Chicago and Lake has only sharpened attention to the issue.  Two years ago, the Third Precinct instituted C.L.E.A.N. (Citizens’ Law Enforcement Action Network), a joint venture between police and citizens to target chronic offenders in Phillips.  The numbers readily illustrate the challenge they faced:  at C.L.E.A.N.’s outset, the program identified 34 chronic offenders, who collectively accounted for an astounding 2,091 police contacts.  

The Crime Prevention and Security Collaboration will build upon the work of C.L.E.A.N. by inviting Midtown businesses and their private security forces to actively engage in both new and ongoing crime prevention efforts.  Although final details are still in the works, the Collaboration’s multi-faceted approach will include measures designed to reduce both serious crime and the sorts of low-level offenses that undermine perceptions of public safety.  “As the Chicago-Lake area continues its unprecedented revitalization, we want to make sure that it stays a safe environment for businesses, employees, and residents,” says Inspector Scott Gerlicher of the Third Precinct.  “The Collaboration is part of a broad effort to proactively address small issues before they become large ones.”  


Building a Collaborative Workgroup

As its name suggests, the Security Collaboration will bring together law enforcement and the private sector to make Midtown safer and more livable  “The police obviously have a huge role to play, but we also need to actively engage the businesses and their private security forces,” says Renee Allen.  “My hope is that we can pull together a working group of transit police, Third Precinct officers, probation officers, local business owners and their private security personnel, and city and county attorneys.”  This group would meet monthly to discuss common issues, and to identify repeat offenders known to cause problems at different places in the community.  “Our first few meetings would probably revolve around sharing information, and brainstorming about the crime prevention needs and different ways to address them,” explains Allen.  “Creating relationships between the different parties is the necessary starting place, and everything else will build from that.”  


Spreading the Word

As part of the plan, the Safety Center will begin issuing a regular e-mail dispatch that provides current crime statistics, updates on chronic offenders, safety tips, and announcements of upcoming community meetings and events related to crime and safety.  Because the Chicago-Lake area remains a traditional neighborhood, with many small businesses that are not necessarily wired for digital communication, the personal, door-to-door approach will also play its part.  As Renee Allen describes it, the goal is to send information through the concentric relationships that already exist between different community members.  “For effective crime prevention, information needs to move from private security personnel and business owners, to the police, to community members at large, much like ripples in the water,” she says. “The Security Collaboration is the rock that we will throw out to make that happen.”  


Sharing Resources  

The Collaboration’s plan also calls for greater direct information sharing between police and private security about criminal activity through the Common Radio Link, a dedicated, 900 megahertz police radio channel.  Abbott Northwestern Hospital and the Midtown Exchange’s security team are the only area businesses presently using the Common Radio Link, but the Collaboration will encourage widespread implementation over the coming months.  This simple and cost-effective strategy can result in higher apprehension and conviction rates, while promoting greater cooperation between the police and privacy security personnel.


Harnessing Technology

The Collaboration will support efforts to install a network of wireless cameras at key business node intersections.  Monitored by the Third Precinct, these cameras could be capable of zooming in on license plates or inside cars and tracking someone for up to three blocks, depending on the type of camera installed.  According to Renee Allen, if tilt-pan-zoom cameras are used, they could eventually be tied into “shot spotters,” or gunfire detection systems.   Not only can these devices discern the sound of gunshot, but they can identify the type of weapon used and pinpoint where the shot was fired using a built-in GPS system.  “When used in conjunction with a wireless camera,” Allen says, “this technology can literally catch someone with a smoking gun.” Inspector Scott Gerlicher has begun working on this camera initiative, and is exploring funding possibilities.


Expanding the Court Watch Program

People in a community start to feel unsafe when they see someone engaged in the same low-level criminality time and again, but have no way to voice their concerns or see them addressed by law enforcement.  A working mechanism to funnel these complaints to the criminal justice system can lead to criminal convictions or diversions to chemical dependency or mental health care programs that simply would not have otherwise happened.   To achieve this, the Security Collaboration includes plans for the Midtown Safety Center to formalize and expand the Court Watch efforts already underway through the neighborhood’s CCPI program.  Renee Allen plans an outreach effort to involve Lake Street businesses in Court Watch, and to solicit their written impact statements.  “Whether it’s residents, or employees of local businesses, everyone sees the same offenders,” says Allen.  “We want to communicate to residents, the security companies and the businesses that if these people are affecting your life or your business, the judge needs to know about it.”  


Partnerships Are Key

As Renee Allen sees it, the Collaboration’s success will boil down to its ability to build meaningful working partnerships with area businesses and their private security forces.  “As Crime Prevention Specialists, we know that establishing relationships across an entire community is key to successful crime prevention,” she says.  “To achieve that, people have to step outside their regular boundaries, and understand that policing their own front yards has a broader community impact.  By going a little bit beyond that guard desk and reporting criminal activity to the police, private security forces can have a tremendous effect.  This is especially true in a place like Chicago-Lake, which has so many security companies in such a small area.”  

CPS Luther Krueger agrees, citing the experience of the Safe Zone program.  “We have about 70 police officers serving downtown, but there are over 1,000 private security officers working for downtown businesses,” he says.  “Enlisting the help of private security 

personnel only makes sense, given these numbers.”   Jana Metge, Chair of the Phillips Weed and Seed, points to the practical necessity of pooling crime prevention resources in Midtown.  “In the current climate of stretched public funding, it’s vital that we coordinate existing capacity wherever possible,” she notes.  Metge's prediction about the Security Collaboration's likely success is especially rosy, given her high regard for its leadership.  "I can't say enough about Renee Allen's energy and ability," Metge says.  "The neighborhood is certainly fortunate to have her at the helm of this effort."  

Alan Goldbloom, MD, President and CEO of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, views the Collaboration as a vital step in promoting ongoing economic development and enhanced livability in the neighborhood.  “Safety is obviously a critical concern not just for area residents, but for employees and visitors to the neighborhood,” he says.  “Even in this early phase, the plan represents great progress, and underscores how the presence of the Safety Center and the commitment to public safety that it represents are such tremendous advantages for everyone in this community.”