Community Organization Revitalizes WhistleStop Program for Violence Prevention

By selling $2 whistles, WhistleStop aims to pinpoint the location of victims and force offenders to flee.

By Jen Feng

The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Council (HPKCC) is revitalizing a decades-old program that fights crime with $2 whistles and community vigilance. Stephanie Franklin, WhistleStop Chair at the HPKCC, has said that a revitalization of the program has been on the agenda for many years, and with the rising uneasiness about violence in Chicago last year, there has been an especially strong push to bring it back.  

The WhistleStop program follows a few rules. If people find themselves in danger or witness to a crime, they blow their whistles. If others hear a whistle, they call the police, then move toward the source while raising the alarm with their own whistles. The goal is for people to gather around the scene of suspicious activity. It allows people to come to the victim’s aid, forces the offender to flee, and helps the police pinpoint the location of the crime.  

The program was first introduced to the Hyde Park community by the HPKCC in February of 1972. It had been widely praised by community members. Many individuals in online community forums report that, in the program’s heyday, they felt safer knowing they could whistle for help if they felt threatened, and many have stories of witnessing crimes being foiled by the initiative. Since then it has gone through several resurgences and periods of dwindling awareness. The last great effort to revitalize the program was in 1994. Today, Franklin says that although some who have lived here for many years may still carry their whistle, not many newer residents are aware of the program.  

The program faded as people felt safer, perhaps because it is so effective, says Franklin. She has said that another reason for the decline in awareness is that so many Hyde Park residents are students that only stay in the area for a couple years and never have to use a whistle. Maintaining an effective program requires regular reminders because it is only effective when the residents know how it works.  

Members of the HPKCC expect to meet with the University of Chicago Police Department in the near future to discuss the collaboration between the two organizations. The University has been supportive of WhistleStop in the past, even promoting it in 1988, 1992, and 1994 through efforts separate from those of the HPKCC. Franklin has said that in this latest revival of the program she is working on making the whistles available across campus, including in the dorms. “I want to make it difficult for people to not have a whistle,” she said.  

Currently, whistles are available for purchase at 10 locations around Hyde Park: the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, Hyde Park Bank, Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the South East Chicago Commission, Noteworthy Notes, Bank Financial, and Toys Etcetera, The Silver Room, Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, and Freehling Pot and Pan. There are plans to expand the number of these locations in the future.