chicago crime

‘This is Out of Control': Downtown Residents Worry As Crime Soars

For at least the last 18 months, downtown residents have complained of increasing crime and lack of attention from City Hall

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On Monday, all of America reeled at the sight of Chicago's Magnificent Mile being pillaged by roaming bands of thieves, who seemed to move with abandon through the city's downtown.

Just one week prior, news networks spread similar images of a shootout in front of high-end boutiques on Oak Street.

To downtown residents like Gary Hebding, it was no surprise. Hebding said he has seen continued crime downtown in recent months.

Following protests and looting in Chicago for the second time this summer, some are wondering - "where do we go from here?" NBC 5's Carol Marin reports.

"This is never something I've seen before in the four years that I've lived here," he said. "Those incidents are coming here downtown, and they are happening right here in the neighborhood."

Recently, Hebding watched in horror as a group of men attempted to carjack an Uber driver in front of a Wacker Drive hotel.

"This happened at 12 o'clock p.m. in broad daylight on a Monday," he said. "Something you would have never expected to happen here before."

The increased crime downtown has the area's estimated 100,000 residents alarmed. Many say they see the tranquil oasis they moved into, rapidly slipping away.

"We've been talking about this for the last 18 months at least," says Deborah Gershbein, president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR). "This just keeps getting worse and worse and worse."

Video from NBC Sky 5 shows damage and the aftermath of looting that broke out overnight at a Best Buy and surrounding businesses in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

An NBC 5 analysis of Chicago Police statistics posted in the City of Chicago's Data Portal paints a disturbing picture.

While many have focused on Monday's looting sprees, the CPD data shows that since Jan. 1, the downtown area has been plagued by at least eight homicides, 317 assaults, 51 criminal sexual assaults, 19 carjackings and 220 robberies.

"This has gone beyond acceptable at this point, this is out of control," Gershbein said. "We can't wait any longer because we have seen the worst of the worst in this neighborhood."

Just last week, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd ward) and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd ward) held a meeting with police, Gershbein and other neighborhood leaders to listen to concerns about soaring downtown crime. Ironically, that mini-summit occurred just days before the looting of Monday morning.

"The people that I represent downtown are terrified," Reilly told NBC 5. "If we lose downtown, we lose the city."

Reilly points to a number of factors. Neighborhood residents complain that downtown hotels are opening their doors to raucous gatherings in packed rooms, which often spill into the streets.

Chaos erupted in downtown Chicago early Monday, with widespread looting at countless businesses, property damage, as well as shots fired both at and by police.

"We need our hotels to control their lobbies as if they would their safe," Reilly said.

Plus, he said he has seen an increase in overnight "curbside parties," with hundreds gathering on the street, long after bars and restaurants have closed.

"Why are folks downtown at all?" he asked about the all-night street gatherings. "There's no reason to be here."

The problem became so prevalent that the city posted no-parking zones in many of the de-facto party areas. But Reilly said he has also seen a troubling spike this summer in car-to-car shootings.

He said he is happy to see a CPD decision to deploy Critical Incident Response Teams to trouble spots, but believes a larger solution needs to include more beat officers throughout the downtown area.

"We don't want gang-bangers getting comfortable in any neighborhood in the city of Chicago," he said. "But I think it's a recipe for disaster for them to get comfortable downtown - especially overnight."

Hopkins agreed, citing what he calls a growing sense of unease in his residents, who tell him downtown is no longer a safe place to live or shop.

"I'm not making this up to antagonize the mayor," Hopkins said. "This is true, this is happening. This is what's going on right now and the mayor is ignoring it and not responding to it."

Hopkins is calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Police Supt. David Brown, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, and Chief Judge Timothy Evans, to work out a plan to suppress criminal activity downtown, and to report that plan to the City Council.

"They all need to get on the same page immediately and save our city," Hopkins said. "If this continues to happen, Chicago cannot survive as a viable urban center. They need to save our city. They're the leaders in this situation right now, they need to stop blaming each other, get together, and respond."

Gershbein described her members as terrified, many telling her they won't venture out in the downtown area at night. And she noted that the images people are seeing across the nation have the potential to shut down tourism and the convention trade, which pump millions of dollars into city coffers every year.

"The residents are a target, the visitors are targets, and unfortunately nobody wants to be here anymore," she said. "If this neighborhood goes down and River North goes down, and the Gold Coast goes down and the Loop goes down because we have all this criminal activity, Chicago becomes like Detroit."

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