Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Real Straight Dope - Rogers Park More Dangerous Than Admitted

Cecil Adams, the genius behind "The Straight Dope," asks the innocent question, "Is Rogers Park really as dangerous as people say?" in a post with that title. He does so today, May 21, and his answer is pretty good - for somebody who really doesn't know Rogers Park. He quotes Chicago News Bench and others, has a few pretty bar charts, and generally analyzes the crime statistics well. As I said, however, he doesn' t really know Rogers Park, and his analysis is about as useful as an analysis of Mayan culture. You can read all about it, but unless you've lived it, you can never really know it. I just spent 10 years in Rogers Park; I left it last October and still stay in touch from nearby, in my secret bunker. As far as I know, and as far as his post indicates, Cecil Adams has not live in Rogers Park. Cecil starts with a letter from a worried reader: "After weeks of weighing options in the search for an ideal apartment .... I've come to the conclusion that the best place would be Rogers Park. Yes, I'm having a hard time hearing myself say it. .... Everything seems fine about it ... except the reputation of the neighborhood. Is it still as bad as it used to be?" No, and yes. Rogers Park is not "as bad as it used to be." Then again, it's not as good as it used to be, either. Once upon a long lost era, Rogers Park was a largely Jewish neighborhood, a place where you could grab a kosher corned beef sandwich on Morse Avenue on your way to a jazz club north on Howard Street. That was until the 1970's, when the complexion of the neighborhood started to change. White flight occurred, crime skyrocketed, temples closed, delis and jazz clubs shuttered themselves forever, and the place went to hell for a while. Today, Rogers Park is on a slightly better rung of Hell, but portions of it, and aspects of it, are still hellish. About 10-12 years ago, a push was started to clean the place up. This push was done largely by private interests. Landlords installed better lighting and were more vigilant about who was loitering or trespassing - or selling drugs or sex services out of their buildings. The police helped some, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore pretended to care, and things have gotten a bit better since the late 1990s. However, saying that "things are better" in Rogers Park is a bit like saying that a cancer patient "is better" after a few tumors have been removed from his tumor-infested body. It may be technically and literally true, but the patient is still very ill. Cecil's analysis of the crime stats misses an important point: The Chicago Police Department fudges the numbers. I need only cite one example to demonstrate this. About two years ago, a man was beaten to death at the corner of N. Greenview and W. Morse. He was savagely attacked by a group of several teenagers. He was killed by their intentional action. Yet, the police categorized that as "homicide," not "murder." That helped keep the murder rate officially lower than it should have been reported. Rogers Park crime is extremely high by national standards. Violent crime near N. Sheridan and W. Jarvis, spitting distance from Ald. Moore's own home, is more than 10 times the national median and more than four times the Chicago median; violent crime per 1,000 residents is 55, compared to 12 per 1,000 for Chicago overall and 5.7 per 1,000 for Illinois (source: Cecil writes that criticism of neighborhoods can be exaggerated, including criticism of Rogers Park crime. He said that "(1) yes, these communities are more dangerous than some parts of town, but (2) in the grand scheme, whatever the excitable element may think, things really aren't that bad." This is dangerous thinking, and doesn't mention the fact that Rogers Park makes up nearly half of the 24th Police District, one of the most dangerous in the entire city. As I wrote on May 7, the 24th District is more violent that the neighboring 23rd (which includes Uptown). Chicago has two levels (Level One and Level Two) with which it categorizes polices district violence. Level Two is considered more violent than Level One. Both the 23rd and 24th districts are within Area Three. The 23rd District is a Level One. The 24th District is the only Level Two in Area Three. Most of the rest of the city is Level One. The Level One and Level Two designations determine how police manpower is concentrated and deployed to "where there is the greatest probability of violent crimes." For people to hide their heads in the sand and say that "things really aren't that bad" is rather like a French villager in 1940 looking around at his cows, grazing on his green mountainside pasture, and saying that things in Europe "really aren't so bad." His pasture is fine, but not so far away there's a world of pain. At any moment a bomb could land in his pasture or on his farm house, but he'd rather not think about it. Things really aren't that bad, he tells himself. Are there Chicago neighborhoods more dangerous than Rogers Park? Certainly, but that doesn't make Rogers Park "safe." Narcotics sales are still very brisk in Rogers Park, and good statistics are impossible to come by; the thousands of unseen, undocumented drug transactions are not recorded. They happened regularly and often right outside of Alderman Moore's ward service office at W. Jarvis and N. Greenview. A young man was murdered not long ago, about 200 feet from Moore's office. Cecil wraps his post with this rose-colored glasses statement: "If you decide to move to Rogers Park you'll want to exercise the usual precautions. That done, don't worry about it. You'll be fine." Sure. The "usual precautions." In Rogers Park, "usual precautions" includes but is not limited to staying away from CTA stations after dark, staying out of the parks after dark, walking with a buddy or a large dog if you must walk anywhere after dark, constantly being vigilant for the next shooting on Morse or Howard, and generally staying out of the neighborhood. You'll be fine. RELATED: Violent Crime Skyrockets in Rogers Park Armed Robbery Near 49th Ward Service Office Chicago's 24th District More Violent than 23rd ... Savage CTA Attack on New Year's Eve BLOODY NIGHT IN ROGERS PARK, CHICAGO Robbed: Ald. Moore's Chief of Staff Morse Avenue Is Dangerous ARSON AT MORSE THEATRE BREAKING NEWS: MURDER IN ROGERS PARK (Another) Murder in Rogers Park The Bloody Streets of Rogers Park Leave a Comment on our Guestbook! CommieBama Hats and More Chicago News Bench RSS Feed Follow ChiNewsBench on Twitter