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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:24:58 PM CST

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Alexandra M. Schwappach/MEDILL

Early in the morning, Chicago lakefronts are nearly empty, but come afternoon and early evening, they are filled with crowds, something worried residents say contributes to the rising violence.

Violent beaches mar arrival of warm weather

by Alexandra M. Schwappach
June 08, 2011

On Memorial Day, 22-year-oldAeyanuna Rogers was shot and killed around 11:15 p.m. as she and her friends were leaving the 57th Street Beach. Her death raised the total killings on Memorial Day to seven. Reports said more than 20 other people were wounded over the holiday weekend.

Gold Coast resident Tina Rotter often takes her grandchildren to Oak Street Beach near her home. 

She said they arrive around 9 a.m., when the crowd is usually made up of families with children.  But when they leave after lunch, she said a different kind of crowd arrives: teenagers, loud raucous groups who drink, litter and cause trouble.

“Lifeguards cannot possibly be doing their jobs of ensuring water safety with everything else going on,” she said.

A Park District official, Zvez Kubat, said the district works closely with the police department on patrols, but numbers are solely up to the police to determine. Lifeguards are present from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; beaches close at sundown.

Part of the problem, in Rotter’s view, is having places nearby that serve alcohol. Another is the inconsistency in police presence in these areas.

That issue has been much debated in the city as overall police numbers have declined and officials have looked for ways to increase street patrols while staying within budget constraints. New Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said this week that a 90-day reassignment of 500 officers is one way for the department to deal with patrol shortages.

But Rotter said more comprehensive action is needed.

“The park district should be cleaning and have safety patrols to assist the lifeguards,” she said. “If our beaches were treated as well as public swimming pools, we might have a chance to make this situation better. Right now, it remains a problem that many of us find unacceptable.”

And Rotter isn’t the only one. 

Lisa Lambert, Hyde Park, wrote a letter to the University of Chicago police, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle about her concerns over beach closings and beach safety.

In the letter, Lambert addresses the lack of police patrol at beaches such as the one at 57th Street. She said this beach did not have car patrol or foot police visible until well after 10 p.m. “We know the University and City Police Departments are well aware of the correlation between the first warm days and a sharp spike in crime,” she said in the letter.

“For this reason it was shocking that as thousands of people came to this area on 5/30/11, we saw very little police presence from the CPD and the UCPD.”

One reason for the crowds is that beaches from Navy Pier to 47th Street have been closed due to construction and maintenance, so groups that would usually go to these beaches have flocked to others, causing overcrowding, Lambert said.

“Everyone seems to have missed the unanticipated community impact the beach closings have had,” Lamber said. “And there are just not enough resources to control it.”

Lambert’s passion for beach safety stems from her experience in another big city, her former home in New York. “The reason I have such a strong reaction to this is because in New York, police have met the challenges they have with safety and have overcome them,” she said. “But Chicago seems slow to adopt those types of changes.”

Hairston and the Chicago Police Department held a police roll call on Monday at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, to add more manpower to the area and help the police to get to know each other. There, Lambert said, some policemen were just meeting each other for the first time.

“These are some bright and strong individuals,” she said. “But there aren’t enough of them, and they’re spread too thin.”

Lambert believes some of the beach violence might be deterred if there was a stronger physical police presence in the area, even just some police cars.

“Troublemakers will see a cop car and they’ll just keep moving,” she said. “It’s not going to prevent the crime from happening at all, but it’s going to deter it from happening in that area.”