Violence plagues some new ‘Safe Passage’ routes

Violence plagues some new ‘Safe Passage’ routes
A sign, one of 1,600 the city has installed in recent weeks, marks a safe passage route along Chicago Avenue. WBEZ/Bill Healy
Violence plagues some new ‘Safe Passage’ routes
A sign, one of 1,600 the city has installed in recent weeks, marks a safe passage route along Chicago Avenue. WBEZ/Bill Healy

Violence plagues some new ‘Safe Passage’ routes

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

The areas closely surrounding routes designated by Chicago Public Schools as Safe Passage, where students will begin walking this week, have already seen more than 100 shootings and dozens of murders this year, according to a WBEZ analysis.

The analysis of Chicago Police Department data offers a snapshot of violent crime within a one-block radius along each of the 53 newly designated Safe Passage routes, as defined on the city’s website, before the expanded program goes into effect on Monday.

Following safety concerns in the wake of a historic round of 50 school closures, the district is spending an additional $7.7 million this year to double the number of Safe Passage workers, from 600 to 1,200. The program stations adults, trained in conflict resolution and armed with cell phones and high-visibility vests, along designated Safe Passage routes during the hours students are walking to and from school.

Safe Passage is already in place near 35 Chicago high schools and four elementary schools. CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration are expanding it this year to allay safety concerns for the roughly 10,000 students who will be heading to new receiving schools this year, sometimes through dangerous gang territory.

The grisly daytime shooting of five people along one new Safe Passage route in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood last week drew more attention to violence along the new routes, just days before the start of classes.

But it was hardly the first.

There have been 133 shootings and 38 murders near Safe Passage routes so far in 2013, according to a WBEZ analysis of Chicago Police Department data. That’s 16 percent of all shootings, and 16 percent of all murders, that have taken place citywide through Aug. 13, the most recent data available.

Crime data also show that violence plagued the areas around some new Safe Passage routes, even while CPS students were in class last year. Areas within a one-block radius of the newly named routes saw 68 shootings and 12 murders on school days during daytime hours last school year, according to WBEZ’s analysis.

The Safe Passage zone around Luke O’Toole Elementary School, in the West Englewood neighborhood, has seen 10 shootings and three murders this year through Aug. 13, and seven shootings between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. on school days last year. In the area surrounding the new Safe Passage route leading to Mollison Elementary School, in the South Side’s Bronzeville neighborhood, there have been at least 10 shootings so far in 2013.

WBEZ reached out to principals at several schools with the most violence near the new Safe Passage routes, but none returned phone calls.

CPS maintains posting Safe Passage workers along the routes can lead to a drop in crime. Over the past two years, overall crime along the 39 existing Safe Passage routes has dropped 20 percent, according to CPS. The district did not provide numbers to back that up, or data showing the effect on violent crime specifically.

“Any crime near our schools underscores the importance of partnering with community-based Safe Passage vendors and workers to help our children get to and from school safely,” CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett was quoted as saying in an email to WBEZ late Friday. “CPS looks forward to collaborating with CPD, CFD, other city agencies and responsible adults throughout the communities we serve to provide for the safety and security of our students.”

Crime in the areas surrounding Safe Passage routes does tend to go down as the programs become more established in communities and local business owners and residents become involved, said Cindy Wilder, with Prologue, one of the vendors providing workers along new Safe Passage routes serving five schools across the city’s West Side.

“We tell the older kids, ‘C’mon you guys, you’re doing something illegal, this isn’t the place to do it,’” Wilder said. “It becomes known in the community, you can’t do those kinda wrongdoings in that area.”

But CPS has also suggested the program shouldn’t be seen as a panacea for the city’s crime problem.

“Safe Passage is during the time that children come to school and leave school,” said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett when asked about last week’s shooting in Uptown. “That doesn’t minimize sympathy for any child or any person that’s hurt on a particular street, but Safe Passage is slightly different and it’s comprehensive.”

But just days before the start of classes, the city’s continuing violence added to worries among some CPS parents and other officials.

“I am more concerned,” said Chicago 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman. His ward includes Brennemann Elementary, near where the five people were shot along the new Safe Passage route in Uptown last week. The area around Brennemann’s route has seen at least four shootings so far this year, and five daytime shootings during the last school year.

“That’s why we continue to put pressure on CPS to have a good program in place that ensures children feel safe as they go to and from school,” Cappleman said.

The Chicago Teachers Union, meanwhile, has questioned CPS’ commitment to the Safe Passage program beyond the first week of class.

“We’re skeptical that the Board is gonna be able to protect the kids in all of these routes for the whole entire school year, and the school years to come. So that’s a concern,” said Norine Gutekanst, the coordinator of organizing for the Chicago Teachers Union.

Meanwhile, Cappleman said he remains optimistic but is waiting to see how the new Safe Passage routes shake out.

“For me, the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “We look at the data. We will know it’s a good plan when we see less violence occurring when school lets out.”

Alex Keefe covers politics and Elliott Ramos is a web producer at WBEZ.

Follow Alex @akeefe and Elliott @ChicagoEl.

Violence near new ‘Safe Passage’ routes, 2013
New Safe Passage zones Homicides Shootings

Source: City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department data through Aug. 13, the most recent available. Shootings data | Homicide data

Daytime violence near new ‘Safe Passage’ routes, 2012-2013 school year
New Safe Passage routes Homicides Shootings

Source: City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department data through Aug. 13, the most recent available. Includes all shootings and murders that took place between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. on days when class was in session for all CPS students. Shootings data | Homicide data