Woodlawn residents see decline in gang activity

By Carl Pickerill

Woodlawn community members attribute the drop in gang activity over the past several months to the continued collaboration between the University Police Department (UCPD) and the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) 3rd District. The cooperation—which has led to a decrease in unified gang activity south of 61st Street—promises to provide Woodlawn with an improved image, and community members hope that business growth will soon follow.

UCPD Director Rudolph Nimocks said that the police departments have “discerned what appears to be a reduction in gang activity.” He said that getting rid of gang activities is a continuous process.

“We are out there every day trying to find out where the problems are at,” Nimocks said. “We try to discover instances of drug trafficking, and when we do, we try to curtail it and make the arrests so that the other criminal activity goes away.”

Nimocks said that the police department attempts to customize its approach to fighting crime to fit the needs of the community. This involves close cooperation with the 3rd District.

“The operation of control of the University’s police department has been extended to 64th Street in the past few years,” said Ernest Brown, Police Commander of the 3rd District. “We in the 3rd District therefore work in close collaboration in terms of exchange of information and addressing those problems of gang activity that affect the community.”

Brown said that the joint outdoor roll calls and joint missions contributed most to the crime drop. He also said that residents of Woodlawn are content with the work being done by both police departments to curb the rate of crime.

University Community Relations Coordinator Hank Webber emphasized that Woodlawn has supported the police collaboration. “The UCPD decision we made two years ago to start policing Woodlawn was very much welcomed by Woodlawn residents,” Webber said. “I consistently hear positive things from residents, and have taken a lot of requests from people in the area to expand our police coverage.”

Webber alluded to the fact that the drop in crime will encourage more retail activity south of 61st Street, which is something that residents and community organizers have been seeking for some time.

“We want to see retail at 63rd and Cottage Grove,” said Karen King, Director of the New Communities Program at the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation. “We are excited by what the University is doing on their land abutting 61st Street and we hope that more retail along 63rd Street will be part of that nodular development.”

King said that the University has contributed a great deal to the partnership with the community, and has insured the progression of retail development in the area.

Willie Cochran, also of the New Communities Program and a retired 26-year veteran of the CPD 3rd District, said that the changes in the community and the cooperation with the University has caused significant changes. “I used to walk into homes in Woodlawn while on the job with the police,” he said. “I saw the conditions that people lived in, having to deal with that type of environment, and I just thought to myself: Why are people living like this?”

Cochran said that conditions have improved, but that much remains to be accomplished.

Brown stressed the importance of the collaborative efforts between the University and the CPD to bring about improvement and development in the community. He pointed to one particular joint mission that resulted in the apprehension of robbers in the area.

“We were recently involved in a joint mission to reduce the rates of robberies in the area,” Brown said. “We wound up catching several other robbers and were able to clear up several other robbery cases just from that one arrest.”

Along with a decrease in robberies, the number of area assaults has declined. While 18 assaults occurred from mid-July to mid-August between 60th and 65th Streets east of Cottage Grove, only 10 occurred in that same area between mid-August and the end of September.

Drug cases have been more difficult to track, noted Bob Mason of the Southeast Chicago Commission. He said that drug violations among gang members are “impossible to quantify,” but that if residents are seeing a decrease in the gang activity, “they are probably right.” Brown said that the robbery cases were mostly centered around the corners of 61st and University and 61st and Ellis.

He added that students are frequenting the Woodlawn area in great numbers and that a downward rate of crime can only lead to more interaction between students and the community. “We frequently see students visiting local businesses on 63rd Street, leaving the elevated train,” Brown said. “A lot of them do community service on 64th Street as well, so you can’t really make generalizations about the fear factor among students toward crime in the community without talking to individual students.”

Brown said that he welcomes an increase in collaboration between the University and the Chicago Police Department.