Phillips Up Close: Patrolling Chicago-Lake
March 2003—The day’s first call came in ten minutes after Patrolman Lucas Peterson reached his Chicago-Lake beat at 11:15 am: report of a man breaking into a panel truck. Peterson hit the siren and cut his way through traffic, crossing into the residential streets south of Lake.
Two workmen were waiting for him on the sidewalk by the truck. From inside it came the banging and cursing of an agitated man trying to get out.
The workmen said they’d been making repairs in a nearby house. Looking down on the curb from the window one of them saw a man climbing into the truck. They ran down from the second story and pulled down the back door, trapping the man as he foraged through their equipment. They’d also been robbed the night before, they said, a thousand dollars worth of equipment stolen.
Peterson and another officer who answered the call opened the door and found the man gagging in a cloud of spray from the fire extinguisher he’d been using as a battering ram. The officers hauled him out and arrested him, confiscating a small knife and a large bottle of schnapps.
“I see this individual all the time,” said Peterson after the arrest as he cleaned his hands with an alcohol wipe. “A guy with a hard life who goes around making life hard for other people.”
Peterson has been on the force for nearly three of his 23 years. He has the frame of a high-school linebacker. With his crew-cut blonde hair and fair skin, he looks a bit like the rapper Eminem and said the resemblance has been noted on the streets. He has worked the day shift at Chicago-Lake since January. He thought the beat assignment was a good break from answering 911 calls on the 7 pm to 3 am “dog shift.”
The day unfolded much the same as it began. Traffic stops, a car accident, on and on.
Most of the shift he spent rolling slowly up and down the streets, eyeing the gang members hanging out or walking by. “I give them a look, they give me a look,” Peterson said. “It’s a game we play every day.”
Yet Peterson well understands that his regular presence often must do the bulk of the work in discouraging crime. He said he and his partner made 63 arrests this January, but only between one-in-six and one-in-eight of them resulted in a prosecution. The felonies get the attention. The misdemeanors get dismissed.
“With PC (probable cause) arrests, we can hold them 48 hours. Most of these gang bangers see that as a shower, a night’s sleep and free meals. You can’t threaten them with arrest. On the street that just has no value because they know they’ll be back on the same corner in a couple days.”
Peterson knows little about the Phillips Partnership, the Chicago-Lake Crime Workgroup or the Phillips Police Probation Partnership. He said he wishes he could make better connections with the business owners and residents on his beat.
“I think outreach is great, but the way it goes out here, I stay very busy dealing with the so-called criminal community.”