ITeam Report: The Block Experiment

October 31, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Eight miles from the Loop, in a section of Chicago as violent as any other, on one street – South Drexel Boulevard between 65th and 66th - sits one Chicago police officer in a single marked vehicle.

"They are ground zero for a number of gang conflicts," said Commander Glenn Evans, Chicago Police Department, 3rd District.

Since late May, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there has been a manned police car on the block, put there after a surge in calls for help to 911.

"Multiple instances of public violence, multiple shootings, multiple gang conflicts, multiple imminent gang confrontations...So far it has been success, there's been a measurable decrease in public violence, a measurable decrease in chronic and calls to service," said Commander Evans.

Police say there has been a 45-percent reduction in violent crime on that block of Drexel.

"And I've had almost universal praise by the residents," said Evans.

Some residents of other blocks in Woodlawn are not as happy.

"I don't know why a police car would be just stationary in just one place when we need policemen everywhere, especially on the west side of Cottage Grove," said Lena Cooper, Woodlawn resident.

About a mile from Drexel, Cooper joined other peace activists at a recent prayer vigil near 62nd and Rhodes, where gang shootings and killings are common.

"I think the police are doing the best that they can, and we as a community are just trying to show support as they go out to do their job," said Ryan Priester, Woodlawn Public Safety Alliance.

On various days and times when the I-Team watched the block experiment from a distance, not once did we see an officer leave their vehicle. Some talked on their phone, others read the paper.

Commander Evans says that is not the intent.

"They're not expected to be scarecrows. They're expected to engage in aggressive policing, even though they're in a fixed location. They're expected to do street stops, make arrests and perform the whole gamut of law enforcement duties," said Evans.

Indeed, when I-Team cameras were obvious, police did get out of the vehicle, walked Drexel boulevard and engaged the residents.

A few days after the vigil at 62nd and Rhodes, police expanded their block experiment, putting fixed post officers in cars at 62nd and Rhodes and two other sites in the 3rd Police District.

The question remains: does this simply push crime somewhere else?

"Maybe it does happen, we all know crime gets displaced in some way or fashion. But in terms of that location and in terms of the initiatives at that location, there's been no indication that placing a car there has displaced crime to another location," said Evans.

In the 3rd District, Commander Evans says there are 25 to 30 active gang factions present and at least eight serious, ongoing conflicts between them. But that isn't uncommon in certain Chicago neighborhoods, and Evans says other Chicago districts are starting modified block experiments of their own in an effort to slow the city murder rate that this week surpassed all of last year.

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