Agencies to share vacant-building info

May 19, 2010 4:37:31 AM PDT
The Chicago Police Department is using its computer technology to attack crimes that take place in the city's vacant buildings.Authorities consider many of these eyesores a breeding ground for illegal activities. Now - by using a computer data base to track crimes in these vacant structures - police hope to keep Chicago's neighborhoods safe.

Chicago has roughly 12,000 vacant buildings and the foreclosure mess threatens to keep that number high. Boarded up homes invite crime and devalue property. The city has launched many efforts over the years to indentify problem landlords and short-circuit the red tape that slows the courts. Now technology could put everyone on the same page

Like so many other neighborhoods, there have been foreclosures in Roseland. And last Sunday a woman's body was found inside a home that has been vacant for more than a year.

"It upset quite a few people on the block. It's making people be aware of their surroundings especially with abandoned buildings now," said Clyde Speller, neighbor.

In the last five months three women have been murdered in abandoned buildings in Roseland. Police don't know if there's a connection, but they do know that the murders are a powerful reminder of how vacant buildings can serve as a magnet for crime.

"If you look at some of these buildings they're almost completely demolished," said Mayor Richard Daley.

Tackling the problem has been a monumental struggle for Chicago and other big cities with so many housing cases getting clogged in the courts for years.

But police have a new tool they hope will help in the fight. It's a computer program that tracks troubled buildings. It logs buildings - many of them vacant - by listing police and fire calls, gang activity, code violations and creates a sort of master list of red flags for trouble. Within the last month, the program has been made available to all key city departments.

"It puts everybody on the same page and gives pretty irrefutable evidence that this is a troubled property," said Cmdr. Jonathan Lewin, Chicago Police Dept.

It's by no means a magic bullet, but it is a form of one-stop shopping for city departments, which have, in the past waged the same fight but quite unaware of what the other department knew. It may help lessen court cases that often take two to three years.

"We're being more aggressive in housing court to cut down this time," said Rich MonocchioChicago Building commissioner.

Still, the problem seems overwhelming in many neighborhoods. On the block where Tuesday's news conference was held, there are 18 homes. Five of them are boarded up.

"When the houses get abandoned you go to the alderman to try to get them to do something about it because of all the young children around. You're afraid for their safety," said Gwendolyn Johnson, resident.

Johnson has lived in the 6300-block of Wood for 30 years. She's watched her neighborhood decline, but she also believes city officials have been pretty responsive in the boarding up and watching of those homes that are empty.

Under an ordinance passed in 2008, owners have 30 days to report to the city if they have a property that's vacant. If they don't, they get fined. The amount of money in fines this year is up and so is the number of demolitions.


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