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Chicago Police Department

North Lawndale in Chicago’s 11th Police District had 100 drug abuse incidents from April 15 to April 28, according to the police data.  Drug abuse is just one of the many crimes that occur in North Lawndale on a regular basis, said community activist Fred Mitchell.

Community activist wants to give a cop a home in North Lawndale

by Alexandra M. Schwappach
May 05, 2011

Success story

A resident officer program has been operating in Elgin since 1991, and is currently active in seven neighborhoods. Here's the website explaining the program.

Elgin Resident Officer Program

Fred Mitchell is getting a little tired of the crime in North Lawndale, and he’s got a plan to improve things.

The frequent drug dealings, gangs and shootings, the North Lawndale resident and community activist said, are making residents feel unsafe, and something needs to be done about it.

His solution is a program that would allow a police officer to live in a city-owned house in North Lawndale, which would give police visibility in the community and drive down crime.

“The idea of having a police officer whose beat in his own neighborhood is very effective,” he said. “The officer knows everyone in the community, and he builds a relationship with the people he is protecting.”

Though the idea is still being developed, Mitchell said he would propose that a house be purchased with Tax Increment Financing in the North Lawndale TIF district. TIF funds are generated by new property taxes in an area where the tax base has been frozen. Any new property taxes are put into a fund set up for redevelopment projects in that district.

Mitchell hasn’t presented his idea to anyone yet, because current 24th Ward Ald. Sharon Dixon is retiring and Michael Chandler has not been sworn in as the new alderman yet.

Valerie F. Leonard, a community development consultant who lives in North Lawndale, agrees that crime is up and help is needed. She said she worries most about the children in her neighborhood.

“At 8 or 9 years old, these boys are already on the fringe of being in a gang or selling drugs,” she said. “By the time they are teenagers, they are getting into trouble.”

Years ago, Leonard had several youngsters help her with small projects, such as gardening or voter registration, to keep them out of trouble.

“I would ask them questions like: What do you want to be when you grow up? They would tell me: A lawyer, or a fireman,” she said. “But some of the same boys who wanted to be lawyers now have no hope because they’re in a gang, or they’re selling drugs or both.”

Leonard said she worries some of these children won’t make it to adulthood.

“It makes me think that we really could use some structure or some activities in the area so that these kids don’t continue like they are,” she said.

Leonard said people want to see city employees interacting with the community in a more positive way.

“These kids need a positive role model like a police officer,” she said. “One that they can see as a human and a neighbor and not as an enemy.”

A similar program is being pursued in DeKalb. DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said the program would not only increase police and community interaction, it would also help improve properties in the neighborhood. The city would buy a property in declining condition, improve that property and move in an officer. Improving the property would motivate others in the area to do the same.

“The idea is then to have the officer reside there for a handful of years and then sell the property in an updated condition in a safe neighborhood,” he said.

Feithen said TIF money would be used to purchase and make any renovations to a property. The officer who moves in would then be in charge of paying for utilities, and rent would be free or nominal, Feithen said. The details of how it would work will not be decided until the idea is taken to City Council.

But some are hesitant about how the property costs would be handled. Richard F. Dye, professor at the University of Chicago who studies government and public affairs, said the community would have to see concrete results for the project to be advantageous.

“In order for this project to work, improved safety has to be reflected in improved property value as well,” he said.

He also voiced concerns about TIF funding.

“Most people believe that TIF money is a cookie jar that will pay for anything,” he said. “But I am skeptical about TIF use. It is a hidden form of public budgeting.”

Dye said that TIF captures an increase in property values whether or not they are caused by the development expenditures. Any increase in property value is used to raise taxes for that district. So if a TIF project is used to fund a property improvement project, the property tax will go up and taxpayers will pay for it later. Ultimately, taxpayers are still paying the city and paying the TIF fund, he said.

Right now, the idea for North Lawndale just needs to gain some traction, Mitchell said. He said as Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel finalizes his cabinet that the idea will gather more steam.

“If we can’t make him take our wishes to City Hall and get an ordinance passed, I will run for City Council and take the message to the mayor myself,” Mitchell said.