Armed private security guards could start patrolling Bucktown this week, but organizers will not say how the program will work

BUCKTOWN – Armed private security guards are expected to begin patrolling a section of Bucktown on Wednesday, according to emails sent by leaders of the Bucktown Neighbors Association, which runs the program.

According to documents distributed by the group, the Bucktown Neighbors Association is working with P4, a private security firm with offices in the city center and suburb of Downers Grove, to conduct night patrols of the neighborhood in response to car hijackings and other crimes.

Security guards will patrol the area between Armitage Avenue to the north, Damen Avenue to the west, North Avenue to the south and Paulina Street to the east, according to a P4 brand PowerPoint presentation dated 1. December distributed to some neighbors earlier this month. .

Nightly security patrols could start in the evening and last until after midnight, with schedules changing seasonally, depending on the presentation. In the spring and summer, the patrols started later and lasted longer.

A PowerPoint slide dated December 1, 2021 describing the private security zone will patrol the Bucktown neighborhood

The Bucktown Neighbors Association insisted on communicating only through an anonymous email address and did not make any of its members available for an interview.

The presentation lists Paritosh Batra, Jeff Lowe, Don Richman and Samantha Kaplan as board members of the Bucktown Neighbors Association. Batra is listed as a nonprofit agent on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.

The board declined to comment or answer specific questions about the plan.

According to a document titled “FAQ P4” sent to group members and reviewed by Block Club, the guards will be armed, but they do not have the power to arrest anyone.

Responding to a question about “what exactly” guards can do if they are faced with a crime in the course of commission, the unsigned document says this is left to the “police officer on leave” and “their formative years. “.

“If anyone is detained [at] pointed at by a gun and they believe that person’s life is in imminent danger, the off-duty police officer will step in and try to defuse the situation. Although they are off-duty police officers, they do not have the power of arrest or the jurisdiction to make an arrest. It really must be a saving event, ”according to the document.

When asked how often the guards fire their guns in other neighborhoods where they have patrolled, the document states that P4 has “intercepted several major incidents at HOB and none of our officers have ever discharged a gun. or even pulled out his weapons. This is a last resort and should only be used in a rescue event. ”

It is not clear what “HOB” was referring to. P4 did not respond to a request for comment.

“Lots of unknowns”

In a letter sent to some neighbors on November 11, the Bucktown Neighbors Association briefly described its intention to hire a private security patrol and requested funding.

“To help deter increased crime in Bucktown, neighbors between Winchester and Paulina are organizing a private security patrol,” the letter said. “Similar patrol programs are in place in neighboring neighborhoods. Our program is coordinated by the new nonprofit, the Bucktown Neighbors Association.

When first contacted for comment last week, members of the group said in an email that they were “reviewing various security policies and have no timeline to share” on when a security patrol could begin.

But the patrol will begin on Wednesday, according to an email Kaplan sent to neighbors about a Slack channel set up to communicate with security guards.

In an email dated December 7, Kaplan wrote, “The Slack channel is live, but we cannot start communicating with the agents until the patrol begins on December 15.”

When asked to confirm the start date of the patrol, the group members said in an email Friday that they “believed the program would start on December 15. We are not sure and are still in negotiations with them, it is possible that he will be postponed in which case we will contact the neighborhood.

When contacted again by email on Friday, the Bucktown Neighbors Association initially responded that they would be happy “to help inform neighbors of these legal safety measures in case they were not in the know. aware of what’s going on, “and asked written questions to be answered.

But after a Block Club reporter sent in questions asking how the patrol will be run, what oversight mechanisms will be in place, how a security guard would react to a possible crime, and how the security company was selected, the Bucktown Neighbors Association again declined to respond. .

“You know what, we are all volunteers of this neighborhood association and we don’t feel comfortable speaking on behalf of the community regarding these issues,” the group members said in an email on Sunday. sign.

In an email last week, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose neighborhood includes a large part of Bucktown, said he had “not had any meetings with the group so I can’t answer too much about them.”

“I had a conversation a few weeks ago with one of the founders about what the District Police and the existing Neighborhood Watch were doing with us to deter crime. I’m sure it would be helpful to have another look at part of the neighborhood to watch for crimes, ”he wrote.

Ken Tyler, who has lived in Bucktown since the late ’90s, said he spoke to several neighbors involved in organizing the patrol but was concerned about how it would work.

“I haven’t seen how the program will be administered, what kind of quality checks are part of the process,” Tyler said last week. “I understand that everyone panics every time someone steals someone. … But I don’t know if that’s the answer. But I don’t know what the answer is.

Tyler said he has seen security guards at Bucktown conduct training patrols in recent weeks, but he has questions about their effectiveness.

“What are the performance requirements for this group? I did not see anything. What are they supposed to do? They can’t stop anyone. They can only call CPD, if I understand correctly, ”he said. “My concern would be, what if something happened to the private security company, let’s say they shoot someone, what’s the legality? Just a lot of innuendo there, a lot of unknowns.

Julie Horowitz Jackson owns Virtu, 2035 N. Damen Ave., a gift shop just north of the proposed security patrol boundary.

Horowitz Jackson said the neighborhood has struggled to react to police recently due to workforce issues, but that doesn’t mean private security is the answer.

“I’m concerned that no private entity is formed to handle what it can and cannot live on,” said Horowitz Jackson, who has operated Virtu for more than 20 years. “Do we have trigger-friendly rental cops, or do we have people who know what they’re doing?” I certainly don’t want to see an escalation of an incident by someone who isn’t trained to handle it.

Pamela Maass, executive director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was waiting to learn more about the security patrol.

“We haven’t really heard about the program, who’s funding it, how it started, so that’s all new information to us,” she said.

Special Duty Zone 33, which is administered by the House, has a district business rebate program that reimburses certain fees for hiring unarmed private security services.

Businesses can request a rebate of up to “75% of approved costs not to exceed $ 5,000 per year per location,” according to a document provided by Maass.

Maass said the special duty area commissioners were considering changing the program to include armed security services.

In a statement, chamber members said they would “continue to stand up for the small business community and our neighbors by doing what we can to support crime reduction strategies, and we encourage the police department to Chicago to devote additional resources to our business district. . “

Credit: Quinn Myers / Block Club Chicago
14th Police District Commander Elizabeth Collazo speaks to residents of Wicker Park and Bucktown about the recent upsurge in carjackings on September 28, 2021

The effort comes as Bucktown and all of Chicago have seen a surge in car hijackings in recent years.

Through December 9, Chicago reported 1,658 car hijackings in 2021, up from 1,303 in 2020 and 544 in 2019 during the same period. The 14th district – which includes Bucktown, Logan Square and parts of Wicker Park – recorded 86 car hijackings this year, up from 53 during the same period in 2020.

This fall, city councilors and police held community meetings to raise public awareness about the outbreak and provide updates on police strategies being implemented to deter carjackings and other crimes.

At the time, Ald. The office of Brian Hopkins (2nd) said eight car hijackings were reported from September 13 to 20 in the Bucktown and Wicker Park area.

More recently, police reported that a 22-year-old woman “forced her out of her vehicle at gunpoint” at 6:30 pm on December 8 in the 1900 block of West Avenue Potomac at Wicker Park.

The Bucktown Neighbors Association cited the increase in crime for the need for private security. The group “is coordinating efforts on behalf of more than 120 households who are supporting a program that they say can help deter the upsurge in crime that has taken place in the area,” they wrote in an email.

A slide from a PowerPoint dated December 1, 2021 providing details of a private security patrol organized by a group in the Bucktown neighborhood

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