BEVERLY — Some Far Southwest Side business owners are welcoming unarmed private security to the area amid a spike in crime, while others think the job could be better handled by police.
Unarmed guards started patrolling commercial strips in Beverly, Mount Greenwood and Morgan Park as part of a pilot program last week. Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) announced the pilot earlier in the month, saying it’ll run through and year and is partly in response to local entrepreneurs’ concerns about a rise in crime.
Unarmed guards will monitor West 95th Street, West 103rd Street, West 111th Street and South Kedzie and South Western avenues for the pilot. They drive around in marked cars and can report crime to police but cannot engage, O’Shea said.
Similar programs in Bucktown and Lincoln Park have stirred up controversy and been criticized by officials.
But O’Shea said three local business organizations — Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association, 95th Street Business Association and Mount Greenwood Community & Business Association — asked for the private security, which is being funded with a $100,000 city grant meant to help businesses recover from the pandemic.
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When patrols started last week, some business owners said the extra help was needed. Robberies, burglaries and thefts are up significantly in the 22nd Police District this year, according to police data.
Others said they appreciate the effort but question the effectiveness of unarmed patrols to deter crime, particularly since many police officers already live in the Beverly and Mount Greenwood area.
They said the Police Department could do more to protect business corridors — and the grant funds could have more directly helped businesses. Some also said the security was implemented without enough outreach from O’Shea and the business associations.
‘We Need Something, Some Kind Of Answers’
Many business owners in the area said they’ve been victims of crime, from broken windows to burglaries.
Chef Cedrick “Ced” White, owner of The Drip Bakery at 1844 W. 95th St., said his shop was broken into three times in October and once in May.
“I had to start over. It’s been rough,” White said. “I wish we didn’t need private security, but we’re in a time where there’s a need for it. It’s getting too easy now.”
White said he and other business owners on 95th Street discussed adding private security “out of our own pockets” after a string of break-ins in October. When the grant became available, White said he and others actively met with the 95th Street Business Association to discuss hiring private security.
White said he hopes the unarmed security will deter criminals who have figured out when police officers switch shifts.
“We need it in this area because it’s a ghost town here at night,” White said. “We need anyone willing to keep our businesses safe. The police have bigger fish to fry. They need to protect everyone; they can’t just watch our businesses.”
Aisha Gant, manager at Sweethead Naturals at 1822 W. 95th St., said crime along the business strip has spiked to the point where it needs its own security.
“They’ll get here quicker than the police would because they’ll already be here,” Gant said. “Look at the crime going on in Chicago and everywhere else. We need something, some kind of answers.”
Down the street at Beverly Hills Marketplace, 1809 W. 95th St., owner Bee Jefferson said she welcomed the security following several years of seeing “a lack of resources” from the Police Department.
Jefferson said police used to regularly stop on the street in marked cars, and there was a walking officer on the business corridor. That went away during the pandemic, Jefferson said.
Active police patrols and better security infrastructure, like street lighting, would be more effective than private security, Jefferson said.
“Private security is not a sustainable solution. But we do already pay [the Police Department], which is sustainable,” Jefferson said. “Let the CPD be the ones coming out in marked vehicles.”
Police spokesman Tom Ahern said the Police Department still employs a “very active business liaison officer who patrols the Western Ave., 111th St. and 95th Street corridors daily on bicycle.”
But Jefferson said “it’s been a whole year” since she’s seen an officer patrolling on foot. Others also said they’re concerned and have seen less police in the area — and they don’t know if private security can fill the gap.
Mike Strombeck, owner of Hillside Chatham Florist at 3144 W. 111th St., said he misses seeing more beat officers in the area, but “the more eyes we have, the better.”
Strombeck said he was “surprised” many business owners in Mount Greenwood were in favor of private security.
“This is a cop neighborhood, and I can’t believe they started this program with all the police presence we do have,” Strombeck said. “It came as a quick shock. I would like to see the beat cops back; that’s a stronger deterrent than private security.”
Tim Davis, owner of comic book store Alternate Reality at 3149 W. 111th St., said the private security is “better than nothing, but I’m not sure it’s much better than nothing.” His business has been on on the street for 27 years.
“My attitude is every little bit helps, but a lot of this sounds like shooting in the dark; right place, right time. It’s the same problem the cops have, too,” Davis said.
O’Shea said he consulted security experts about the program, including Charles WIlliams, a former superintendent of patrols for the Police Department and a Beverly resident.
Williams said the pandemic has made it “hard to man squad cars” and new private security cars will help “augment the police.” The Police Department had more than 1,000 vacant positions in May, O’Shea previously said.
“The power they have to prevent crime is the same as everyone else: the old adage, ‘see something, say something.’ You reach out and call the police. That in and of itself is a deterrent,” Williams said. “Cops can’t be in every block every second. But if you’re adding individuals out there, that can look at an area and, if there’s a problem, call the police. That’s a plus.”
In an email to constituents last week, O’Shea said that private security would not be a replacement for cops, and Gill said she is “pro-police” and the private security is intended to “enhance their visual deterrence.”
An email survey was done of area business owners, with 101 responding and the majority of those asking for private security, said Caroline Connors, executive director of the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association.
Strombeck and Jefferson said they missed the survey, but they would have voted for other options — including additional “special events” and “marketing/advertising,” respectively.
Jefferson said she’s been putting paper promotional signs on her door because people have repeatedly smashed her glass facade. Extra advertising would have “helped the survival of the business, and we allow CPD to do their part with the security,” Jefferson said.
“Initially, it would have been nice to have more engagement with the community businesses about adding the security,” Jefferson said. “They could have walked in here and introduced themselves.”
Strombeck said he found out about the patrols last week and thinks O’Shea and the business associations “implemented it really fast.”
O’Shea said it’s “definitely fair to say there was not much notice” before the patrols began.
O’Shea said he hosts a breakfast for every business in the 19th Ward every May, and he hoped to introduce the officers at that meeting so folks could ask questions. But the city hadn’t approved contracts for the grant funds by then, O’Shea said.
“It would have been irresponsible for me to announce something like this without having 100 percent certainty that it would happen,” O’Shea said in an email. “Instead, as soon as I got final approval, I sent out an email blast to ensure that as many residents and businesses as possible had this information. The business associations also sent out information to their membership and the security patrols started the following week.”
O’Shea said he plans for a representative from each security company to attend the next meeting for their corresponding business association so they can receive feedback and answer questions. The pilot program will be reevaluated at the end of the year, O’Shea said.
Larry James, manager and day-to-day operator of Let’s Get Poppin’, a family-owned popcorn shop at 11758 S. Western Ave., said he wasn’t aware of the patrols but “welcomes any kind of extra security.” James said he was a Cook County sheriff’s office for more than 30 years.
In 2020, a retired fireman was shot and killed during a botched carjacking as he left Let’s Get Poppin’.
“I need anything to protect my customers and give them comfort,” James said. “If my customers feel safer, I’m a happy man. It’s that simple.”
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