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Theft, Armed Robbery On the Rise in Near North, West Loop

In spite of a slight decrease in crime rates throughout the city of Chicago over the last three years, crime continues to climb in the 27th Ward, and proposed solutions remain varied.

Nearly 30,000 crimes were reported in 27th Ward precincts between January and October 2010. More than one-third of these crimes were theft, armed robbery or battery, up 10.2 percent from last year and up 19.1 percent from 2005, according to the Chicago Police Department crime index.

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“This bad economy has resulted in terrible job loss,” said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., whose 27th Ward includes the Near North Side and West Loop neighborhoods. “Without enough jobs, people are turning to more and more petty crimes and burglaries to get by.”

“All I know is, I don’t feel safe walking down the street once the sun goes down,” said Ryan Tomassoni, a 25-year-old sales representative who has lived in the West Loop for two years. “And there’s no way I’m letting my girlfriend walk up and down these streets without me.”

Burnett’s plan to combat crime includes attracting new business to the area and working with local businesses to expand and create more jobs. If the community is mobilized to get involved, Burnett said, people won’t resort to crime when given more attractive alternatives.

“It’s like the dog chasing his tail,” Burnett said of often-repeat offense criminals. “We’re missing the beat by just locking people up all of the time.”

“We need alternatives to just police,” Burnett added. “We need to have programs and jobs for when they get out.”

Greg Walker, a 27th Ward resident and former Cook County prosecutor, isn’t so sure.

“I think we need more of a police presence and people realizing they will be held accountable for their actions,” Walker said. “I know it sounds generic, but it’s common sense.”

Although most people agree criminals should face consequences and jail time for committing crimes, some don’t believe putting more police on the street is the answer.

“You put a million police in the street on any given day, you’ll get a million arrests,” said Howard Ray, a police officer and 11th Precinct CAPS spokesman. “We need to change the laws.”

“These people have records when they get out,” said Ray of the difficulties released criminals face when searching for a job.

Although Ray agrees with Burnett’s plan to create more jobs and any skills-training programs for released convicts, he said it may be a good solution in theory, but in actuality, it falls short.

“They have families to support, and $10-per-hour isn’t going to do it. They just end up stealing or drug-dealing again, sometimes just to pay their lawyer.”

Ray recommends implementing a citywide “special conditional bond” where released convicts are confined to an eight-block radius from home and are subject to nightly curfews. If after two years their behavior and records remained clean, past convictions would not be used against them when applying for higher-paying positions for which they are now qualified after job training.

“The Chicago Police Department does a great job arresting people who get out in four hours,” said Ray. “We need to give the community a chance to get the upper hand to help themselves and the people freshly released from prison.”

“One robbery, one battery, one person selling drugs outside your home is one too much.”

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