More and more communities are turning to private security to help combat higher crime.
In the community of Morgan Park, in the far south of the city, a new pilot program employs private security guards to monitor local businesses.
Morgan Park is located just south of Beverly and just north of suburbs like Blue Island on the southern outskirts of the city.
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It’s not one of Chicago’s most violent communities, but a high-profile murder last week put the area to the test.
Police are still looking for suspects in the shooting deaths of two young men in Morgan Park, the youngest of whom was the brother of Fox News personality Gianno Caldwell.
This left the solidly middle-class community unstable. Gun violence and property crime have increased in the region in recent years.
It’s a close-knit neighborhood right next to affluent Beverly. The demographics here are approximately 60% black and 30% white.
Due in particular to the increase in crimes against property, Beverly Hills Morgan Park Business Association hired private security guards to patrol small business districts in the area at certain times to ensure their safety.
“They patrol many hours of the day and night several nights a week,” said Caroline Connors, executive director of the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association. “They will not be armed, they will not participate in any ongoing criminal activity, but will simply call 911 and report these incidents to the police.”
A beloved local business on Western, Let’s go poppin’ gourmet popcorn and dessert shop, has been in business for almost 30 years.
Store manager Larry James says he has employed private security for 22 of those years to ensure residents can choose from more than a dozen tasty varieties of popcorn in peace, and that workers can pop this popcorn safely.
“Cameras are great when you can get back to them, but if you had security, that’s that second push they do because they can flag that person,” James said.
Security patrols provided by local trade associations are unarmed and the goal is simply to have a presence, an extra pair of eyes, and someone to eventually call the cops if anything happens.
Local Matt O’Shea, councilor for the 19th arrondissement said the problem was officer attrition from the Chicago Police Department. He said hundreds of people had left in the past few weeks and the department was not tracking new hires.
O’Shea recently introduced an ordinance to offer incentives to anyone seeking to join the force, in hopes of bolstering the ranks.
“One: A signing bonus for new recruits coming into the ministry, $5,000, which hundreds of cities across our country have been doing for some time and we’re not. (A) $10,000 bonus for someone with a lateral transfer to the Chicago Police Department…and a $10,000 bonus for first-time home buyers,” O’Shea said.
Video: Watch our full interview with Aldus. Matt O’Shea
Despite recent security concerns, Morgan Park has a host of local public and private institutions that bring neighbors together, including a 6-year-old state-of-the-art park district facility known as the Morgan Park Sports Center. It includes one of the city’s few ice rinks and a giant gymnastics center, offering lessons in both sports for kids in the community who need things to do when school isn’t in session.
“It’s where families, friends come together to mingle and meet, and to learn and engage with each other,” said Scott Brost of Morgan Park Sports Center. “We host many community events as well as our traditional wellness, figure skating and gymnastics programming. This facility is so special for keeping kids out of trouble, off the streets, and in productive programming all summer long.
Two years ago, Blue Cross Blue Shield opened the Blue Door Neighborhood Center in Morgan Park to provide a place for health education.
The goal was to lead community members towards wellness and prevention by offering programs in many areas of health and fitness.
“Diabetes, heart disease, asthma, behavioral health issues like depression, as well as nutrition, so access to healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Nicaya Rapier, health educator at Blue Door Neighborhood. Center, listing some of their goals. “DEEP is a diabetes education empowerment program and it’s a six-week evidence-based program and we teach our participants how to manage diabetes as well as how to prevent it and it’s open to everyone.”
The center will host a block party for the community in the coming weeks on Saturday July 16.
Michelle Pressley, CEO and Founder of A Walk of Faith Ministries also recently launched his organization during the pandemic. She organizes food and clothing pantries and will soon start orientation classes for young people.
“We’re always looking for epic pop-up partners,” Pressely said. “The sad thing is that when you drive down the street or near the city center you see all these homeless people, children who really need things and their parents cannot afford to pay. Seeing other parents who are drug addicted and unable to provide for their children as they would like… those kinds of situations and my extreme desire to reach out and help someone helped me start this organization.
With each pop-up, she says they reach around 100 people, but would like to see that number increase. She is currently looking for more food partners and resources to help her expand her reach.
“One person, one neighborhood at a time,” Pressley said. “I know what they’re going through. You look at the similarities in their struggles… there’s help here. You just have to reach out and grab it. Some people are afraid to withdraw. I am here to offer that help.
Video: Watch our full interview with michelle pressley
Community Report Series
“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.