As a second-generation Hyde Park business owner, my family has appreciated the support of CPD and UCPD in our times of need. Officers we’ve interacted with over the years have always been professional, courteous and responsive. With three generations of police officers in my family, I always applaud those who accept jobs in which, even when done right, there’s no guarantee of returning home.
This month, Hyde Park made national news for all the wrong reasons.
The same day that brazen shots were fired in the center of Downtown Hyde Park in an unrelated incident, recent University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng was murdered while walking home from campus. The Hyde Park community lost its sense of safety and the University of Chicago lost yet another member of their community.
Our neighborhood, like the larger city of Chicago, now finds itself at a crossroads with respect to the recent uptick in violence and conflicting opinions on how to respond. Regardless of our feelings and support of police, we need to conduct a close evaluation of the strategies being employed to ensure the safety of our communities.
In response to the violence, University of Chicago and Superintendent Brown put forth a number of solutions to increase both the safety, and the “perception of being safe,” in the area that included cameras, license plate readers, increased traffic enforcement and increased police presence. While some may raise privacy concerns about the first two strategies, my concern lies primarily with the second two.
With UCPD’s large presence, Hyde Park is one of the most policed communities in Chicago. If one of the most policed communities in Chicago can’t get violence under control, what is the true marginal benefit of adding more officers? Is it only to, as Superintendent Brown described, increase the “perception of being safe?” Where would these officers come from, but other districts that are also struggling with this epidemic of violence?
A number of years ago, UCPD took an aggressive approach with its traffic missions, using violations of state statutes as a pretext to pull people over. In practice, this resulted in community residents being stopped coming to and from work repeatedly, instead of inhibiting crime. Additionally, recent data published by Block Club Chicago indicates that black and brown residents are predominately stopped with very little yield and violent crime prevention. Are we to believe that UCPD’s and CPD’s aggressive enforcement strategy will produce a different result in Hyde Park this time around?
Violence is real. It shakes communities like mine to the core, and needs to be addressed. Instead of reverting to the same playbook — more traffic stops and more officers — we need to embrace new and creative strategies that actually curtail and reduce violence. Where in the conversation is increased intelligence gathering and sharing of information across law enforcement agencies? Where is a discussion of adding more investigators who can solve crime instead of patrol officers doing more traffic stops? Since many of these offenders are juveniles or young adults, police could connect and expand opportunities before they become violent offenders.
If the data and our lived experiences tell us that what we’re doing isn’t working, maybe it's time to try something else. The future of our city, communities and people depend on it.
Jonathan T. Swain is past president of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and owner of Kimbark Beverage Shoppe.