43rd Ward public safety forum tackles crime reduction


Wikimedia Commons

Alderman Michele Smith of the 43rd Ward.

Public safety in the city of Chicago has been a hotbed for conversation as civil unrest has gripped the city — and nation. Discussions regarding Covid-19, police reform and redistribution, methods of contacting law enforcement and the logistics of criminal sentencing are growing in importance.

For concerned citizens, getting a chance to directly address some of the city’s top public safety officials is a critical opportunity. After all, understanding between the public and public safety is what leads to a safer and more prosperous community.

Chicago 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith led a public safety forum via a Zoom webinar Wednesday night regarding issues facing the 18th and 19th police districts and the Gold Coast area. 

The mayoral public first safety deputy and projects manager, 18th district captain and sergeant, 19th district commander and captain, first state attorney’s deputy and chief information officer, and a 911 dispatcher were the night’s featured panelists. 

The meeting began with a special message from Mayor Lori Lightfoot who could not attend the forum due to a budget town hall meeting. 

“Yesterday we announced ‘Our City, Our Safety’: Chicago’s first ever comprehensive violence reduction plan,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “I want you to know that I am personally engaged in this fight every day.” 

The five-step crime reduction plan was presented by speakers of the mayor’s office and highlighted an emphasis on improving and advancing policing within the city. 

Policing specifically within the 43rd Ward was the night’s main topic. Following the introduction were accounts of some specific analytical outliers of crime in 2020.

Chicago’s 43rd Ward spans from the northside lakefront all the way west to North Clybourn Avenue and ends at West Diversey Parkway to the north and West Division Street to the south and includes DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus.   

Smith spoke of a troubling rise in arson within the 43rd Ward, which reached eight cases this year. 

“We have a defendant charged with almost all of those arsons,” Smith said. 

The sole arsonist, who committed crimes mostly north of Fullerton Avenue, is said to be in custody.

In the 18th police district sector included in the 43rd Ward, an area that runs from North Avenue to Fullerton and the lakefront to the river, crime was down 44 percent this year, according to 18th District Captain Christopher Biefeldt.  

A man exposing himself in Old Town was reported by citizens and later arrested in this sector which led to a discussion about the importance of community involvement. 

“We count on our neighbors to go to court,” Smith said, adding that with the help of the community in court, the offender was handed “a very good sentence” as well as “treatment.”

The 18th and 19th Districts in the 43rd Ward both presented that theft was their most prevalent crime, with bike theft being particularly troublesome for the 30th Sector of the 19th District. 

“If anyone is there who has a bike, please register it because bike thefts are off the hook,” warned 19th District Captain Paul Kane. The word of advice followed information that the 30 Sector continues to lead the city of Chicago in bike theft. 

After more statistics were presented, as well as some comments from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications camera manager and a 911 dispatcher, the panelists all switched to Zoom’s gallery view for the question and answer portion of the webinar. 

During this section of the webinar, retail theft was brought up, which prompted some comments about the allocation of resources for specific crimes from the First State Attorney’s office amidst a year with lots of looting and unrest. 

“Chicago is not known as the retail theft capital of the world, we’re known as the murder capital of the world,” said First State Attorney Deputy Jennifer Coleman. 

Near the conclusion of the meeting, the police’s handling of Covid-19 within the force as well as its effects on the force in 2020 were brought to the attention of the panelists. 

“Our officers are required to wear masks, however, putting on a mask when we leave our vehicle is not ingrained in our training,” Biefeldt said, adding that in his team, “three members passed away due to Covid-related symptoms during 2020 thus far.” 

The three-hour webinar concluded by providing information about upcoming events to receive updates as well as ways to personally connect and show support with law enforcement such as ‘Coffee with a Cop’ events. 

The next events will both be held virtually via Zoom with the 18th District community conversation on Oct. 8 and the 10 Sector meeting on Nov. 12.