Deborah Foster-Bonner stops in front of a boarded-up corner store near 83rd and Eberhart. It’s shut down now, in part, because of pressure from the community patrol she’s a part of.
It’s a gray, dreary, rainy Saturday morning. But a patrol of six trudges along with their umbrellas. They wear neon yellow security vests and whistles around their necks. They do wellness checks on neighbors they haven’t seen in days. They monitor apartment buildings that have caused havoc in their Chatham community. They follow up with absentee landlords. They are a presence.
"We’re trying to do something that a block club can’t. There’s 12 blocks that are coming together. By that, we’ve got numbers. We’re seeking issues that will affect our lives across the lines of individual block clubs," Foster-Bonner said.
This neighborhood, long an oasis of the middle class, has seen its share of an uptick in crime across Chicago. And this year, in the 6th District, murders and theft are up from last year. Narcotic sales top the list of recorded community concerns. These residents are fed up.
Paul Knox Jr. is out patrolling this morning too.
He said his garage has been broken into a couple of times. Knox’s alarm went off so the robbers only got away with his bug zapper.
He said people used to know each other better on his block. The community patrol is improving relations among neighbors.
"I notice the more they see us, the more they start disappearing," Knox said.
Knox is talking about the criminals.
Foster-Bonner said the patrol is out three days a week, sometimes as late as 3 a.m., walking around, observing.
"The Mrs. Kravitz’s of the world are looking and reporting to us to we can take it to the police," she said, a pop culture reference to the nosy neighbor from the “Bewitched” sitcom.
But seriously, a cabal of concerned residents can be a visual deterrent to criminals.
Residents received formal training just a few months ago from Richard Wooten. He’s a Chicago police officer in this district who gives free neighborhood watch education. Wooten was a liaison to Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) a popular program.
"The CAPS program has been slowly deteriorating and communities still wanting to do something out there but the department wasn’t giving them latitude nor the access they use to have to make it happen," Wooten said.
Wooten isn’t training vigilantes or crime fighters with imaginary capes. He gives stern advice.
"Don’t put yourself in a situation that’s going to cause you to be harmed in any way," he said. "Always go out in pairs. If we know this house is a big drug house, there’s a way to watch that drug house and a way to report it. Don’t actually try to interfere with the process."
And Wooten instructs neighbors to be bold in a different way.
"When the dope boys are on the corner, stand out there and speak to them, talk with them," he said. "They don’t want no company. They gonna leave your block."
Wooten has worked with several groups in Chatham and West Chesterfield. He says he hopes to spread the training to places like Park Manor and Auburn-Gresham.
There’s not much research on Chicago neighborhood watch patrols. Dennis Rosenbaum teaches criminology at the University of Illinois-Chicago and has written how patrols prevent crime in other cities.
"The actual rate of crime in any given community is more likely to be determined by the amount of what we call of informal social control that occurs," Rosenbaum said. "The extent to which the public is involved in regulating their own behavior, at the family level, at the neighborhood level, at the community level."
Rosenbaum said there’s been an over reliance on police the past 20 years when it comes to public safety and more community patrols are needed here.