Raising the Bar: A look at CPD resource allocation

officers, courtesy of Library of Congress

On Tuesday, January 8th, Debra DeYoung, Chicago Police Department Sergeant of Detectives, visited a writing class at the University of Chicago. Arriving late, all radio fuzz and trench coat, she apologized with the strenuous smile that a seasoned specialist in homicide and sex crimes presents when greeting a wide-eyed room full of aspiring journalists.

DeYoung was to present a real-life case, upon which the students would compose their two-hundred-word reports. While the assignment was straightforward, DeYoung’s account revealed the lopsided nature of CPD resource allocation.

She began by distributing a community alert sketch of a Latino male wanted for serially attempted rape in Wrigleyville. The offender would approach the victims with lewd touching, offering them money in return for sexual acts. After being rebuked, he would attempt to physically overpower the women from behind. Fortunately all the victims escaped before the offender could get their clothing off and complete the act.

Although there were probably other victims who had been attacked and chose not to come forward, those who brought their case to the police were, according to DeYoung, primarily young women “coming home late and alone” from the Wrigleyville bar scene.

When asked what linked the victims, DeYoung cited alcohol, as roughly ninety percent of the women were drunk when the offender struck. Notably, however, she didn’t mention alcohol moderation advocacy in the safety script of the community alert. Instead, women in the area were advised to either “have a buddy or take a cab.”

Could it be that this curious departure from traditional safety convention is rooted in the profitability of Wrigleyville’s nightlife scene? In 2004, the Illinois Department of Revenue reported nearly twenty-seven percent of annual sales tax receipts for the City of Chicago came from eating and drinking establishments. Sales tax alone generated from Chicago’s restaurant and bars totaled $130,416,233 that year.

And no neighborhood has more bars than Wrigleyville. From the huge post-collegiate clubs, such as the notorious Cubby Bear, directly across the street from the ball park, to the no-frills corner tap and the blue-collar watering holes, there is no question that Wrigleyville makes a hefty contribution to the quarter-plus of Chicago’s tax revenues gleaned from bar and restaurant sales.

And it goes without saying that the sale of Cubs tickets depends more on the partying in the stands than the action on the field. If not for the alcohol-permitting bleachers and the surrounding beer gardens, it is very unlikely that a team with nearly a hundred years of failure would continue to sell out tickets.

Perhaps that’s why, when criminals of this sort strike in disinvested neighborhoods like those surrounding the University of Chicago, it’s very unlikely that 150 extra officers along with the SOS and Fugitives Units would be brought in to increase police presence, as DeYoung reported they were on this case. While criminal sexual assault rates in low-income neighborhoods are about four times higher than in high- and mixed-income areas, preventive policing practices do not seem to reflect those proportions. DeYoung’s report revealed a police tendency to strategically employ preventive resources in neighborhoods where crime is most economically threatening to city revenues, and not where it’s most physically and psychologically threatening to residents.

But how effective would such preventive measures be at impeding crime in hard-up areas where it’s most prevalent, such as here on Chicago’s South Side? John Hagedorn, senior research fellow of the Great Cities Institute, believes increased police presence cannot solve systemic problems in neglected neighborhoods like Englewood, where residents accept violence as an inevitable hardship of daily life. Still, he acknowledged an important role for increased police preventive techniques like targeted response enforcement, surveillance and intervention to establish “safe zones” around schools and churches.

Even so, neighborhoods dominated by schools and churches do not produce Chicago revenue like those teeming with bars and restaurants. As a result, those areas are not a security priority for the city, and therefore not as likely to receive its preventive protection.

While DeYoung prudently asserted that the CPD does not believe uncaught criminals “just go away,” the increased police presence in Wrigleyville has effectively impeded the sex offender described at the beginning of this article, who hasn’t struck since September.

If the University is serious about minimizing crime on and around campus, all signs point once again toward neighborhood development. Local restaurants and bars do a lot more than offer much-needed jobs, attract students, and satisfy residents. They very well may be the cornerstones of our safety.