Community program wards off crime in Uptown

By Jordan Watkins

Despite colder temperatures and neighborhood political issues, some Uptown residents are still taking to the streets to combat the neighborhood’s crime.

The Positive Loitering initiative, which came to Uptown in 2009, involves community members who gather at local street corners or walk through parks to deter criminals in those areas.

“It’s a very simple program,” said Uptown resident Richard Thale, who coordinates the program and is married to the neighborhood’s alderman, James Cappleman (46th Ward). “We just get together, stand around, visit and meet other neighbors.”

Positive Loitering is a product of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, which residents citywide have used to decrease local crime. But the program has remained strong in Uptown since 2009.

“There was street violence occurring around the corner of Sheridan Road and Leland Avenue. It was alarming,” Thale said. “We wanted to make a statement as community members.”

Uptown resident Gene Tenner said the program makes a “positive difference” in the community.

“Eventually [the crime] cleaned up. The bad guys moved elsewhere, they did their drug deals elsewhere,” Tenner said.

Tenner said local business owners have supported the loiterers because the residents involved watch for crime and visit their buildings for snacks while loitering, boosting business revenue in the area.

“Working together has made a difference,” Tenner said. “I’ve seen crime reduced in areas that once had a lot of drug deals and other crimes.”

Thale also said the program has proven successful, as police have told him even one hour of loitering reduces crime for the entire evening.

“It’s really had an impact,” he said. “It’s hard to quantify, but in general we see quiet corners. The illegal activity we used to see is not completely gone, but we’ve eradicated a lot of this.”

The loiterers have also focused greatly on areas near the intersections of North Sheridan Road and West Lawrence Avenue and North Broadway and West Wilson Avenue, Thale said.

But the program is not without criticism. Jeffrey Littleton, an Uptown resident who owns an art studio in the neighborhood, said he supports the idea of Positive Loitering, but that it has become politicized in Uptown by Cappleman.

“Since he’s been elected, the attendance has dropped off a cliff,” Littleton said. “People think it’s still happening, it’s fiction and it has been for years.”

He said only Cappleman supporters, whom he described as “upper-middle class whites,” attend the loitering events, and police officers often outnumber attending residents.

“There’s zero outreach,” he said. “It’s not grassroots; it’s artificial turf.”

Thale disputed the claims, adding that there is still an interest in Positive Loitering in the neighborhood. He said 11 people attended a Dec. 4 positive loitering event and eight people braved the snow to attend Nov. 27.

“People aren’t as eager to come out in the cold,” he said. “Sometimes it’s three people and sometimes it’s 30 people. If people are concerned about things they’ll tend to come out more often.”

While The Chronicle could not find official attendance numbers, a Chicago Tribune article from October of 2009 said 20 people were in attendance on that evening, suggesting a small decline in attendance.