In the wake of several recent violent crimes in Boystown, many residents are adamant that crime is on the rise in the neighborhood. Hundreds have gathered at community meetings demanding solutions, and some even claim this summer's incidents are the worst they've ever seen.
To get a better picture of Lakeview crime trends, the Windy City Times examined citywide and district-by-district Chicago Police Department crime data going back to 2006. While some media outlets have claimed there's been an increase in crime in the neighborhood, our findings suggest otherwise.
"The crime rate has been fairly steady and kind of on a downward trend for the past several years," said Commander Kathleen Boehmer of the 23rd Police District, which includes Boystown and most of Lakeview.
View statistical charts at www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php?APUB=wct&ADATE=2011-07-27&AGALLERY=crimestats
With the exception of a spike in 2008 ( which correlated to a citywide crime increase ) , crime rates in the 23rd District have dropped every year since 2006. That year, there were 3,629 reported crimes in the district. By 2010, the number had declined more than 8 percent to 3,326.
So far, 2011 crime rates look like they'll follow a similar trend. Between January and June 2010, there were 1,508 crimes reported in the 23rd District. This year's numbers are remarkably similar, with 1,506 crimes through the end of June. While the change is minute ( only 0.1 percent ) , it does mark a decrease in reported crimes.
"Sometimes it's more of a perception issue than it is an actual crime issue," said Max Bever of Alderman Tunney's office. "With the advent of the Internet and media attention, sometimes there can be more attention paid… and then there's a perception that there's been a huge spike in crime."
On July 3, a Boystown resident filmed a rowdy late-night altercation that led to a stabbing, and posted the video on YouTube. The third violent attack in three weeks, it caused an uproar in the community. Some residents feared the stabbing was part of a larger trend, but Boehmer said all three attacks were isolated incidents. Each involved a one-on-one argument that turned violent.
"Obviously it's very disconcerting for people to see [ the video ] , and I can understand why people would be afraid," Boehmer said. "But I wouldn't want people to think that there are people running through the neighborhoods with knives just stabbing people because that's not a fact."
Another factor that could be contributing to the perception of increased crime is the weather. Crime rates across the city spike during summer months, simply because it's finally warm enough for people to be outside. And Lakeview is no exception. The neighborhood typically sees more incidents of crime during the summer, but rates drop back down as temperatures cool.
"Last summer we had a pretty quiet summer," said Jay Lyon, executive director of the Northalsted Business Alliance, "but it was really cool. We didn't have a lot of really hot nights when everybody was out and about."
Many Boystown residents have accused youth who visit the neighborhood from the South and West Sides ( most of whom are of racial minorities ) of loitering and causing crime in the area. On the Take Back Boystown Facebook page, some have argued the Center on Halsted, which has provided free services to the youth since 2007, should be shut down.
Boehmer said blaming the young visitors is unfair. "It's a small minority of youth [ who cause problems ] , and people tend to paint them all with the same brush," she said. "So we're trying to reach out and have some of the youth take some leadership roles. I don't want to blame the youth for everything because adults have committed crimes also."
The commander worries focusing so intently on a handful of violent crimes might distract citizens from other safety concerns namely, theft. She said theft is up citywide, and the Chicago Police Department has located and shut down several chop shops. In June 2011, Boehmer said, there were many burglaries along the Belmont corridor.
The 2011 burglary rate in the 23rd District jumped 11.7 percent from last year, while motor vehicle theft has increased by 19.3 percent. Violent crime rates, on the other hand, have remained relatively stagnant. In 2010, there were 210 violent crimes. This year, there were 214.
"For the most part, this is one of the safest communities in the city," Boehmer said. "We have the second lowest crime rate in the city." Between January and June of this year, the only district that reported fewer crimes than the 23rd ( 1,506 total ) was the 20th. Home to Andersonville and Lincoln Square, this district reported 1,173 incidents.
In comparison, the majority of Chicago's 25 police districts reported somewhere between 2,000 to 4,000 crimes. The 8th District, which includes Chicago Lawn, even topped 5,000 by the end of June that's more than three times what Lakeview's 23rd District reported.
The 23rd District accounts for a little over 2 percent of all of Chicago's crime. Compared to other areas, it has some of the lowest murder, arson, motor vehicle theft and burglary rates in the city.
Both the district police and several local organizations are working to keep those rates low. Since 2008, the Northalsted Business Alliance has hired private security details to patrol five nights a week between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., when crime is most likely to occur in the entertainment district. While the patrols originally consisted of private contractors, the alliance now hires off-duty police.
"They're more familiar with our climate on Halsted because they work within the area already," Lyon said. "It was just familiarity with the neighborhood."
Boehmer has also increased the numbers of officers patrolling the neighborhood. "The only acceptable number of robberies or violent crimes, any kind of crime, is zero," Boehmer said. "We have changed our patrol, shifted our schedule around… We'll continue to work to be more creative. We're going to work with the community and youth-based groups to see if we can help everybody work together and go in the same direction."