Altgeld Tenants: Police, Cameras Not Improving Security

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Bernadette Williams, the tenants Local Advisory Council president, complaining to CHA Board members, on October 18, 2011, about increased shootings at the far south side public housing site. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte


Tenants of public housing have said throughout the Plan for Transformation that they see very little police activity in their areas, except during drug raids.

In decades past, police officers used to walk the beat, but they are little seen these days, and the public housing tenants living in CHA developments and in areas where they relocated wonder where “Officer Friendly” is, especially in light of the fact that the Chicago Housing Authority has been paying the Chicago Police Department millions of dollars annually to provide foot and car patrols.

CHA dismantled its own separate police department in 2000. Then, in March 2001, CHA officially contracted with the CPD and began paying them up to $12 million annually to provide “above baseline services,” which includes foot and car patrols of CHA public housing sites, along with patrols of other areas to where tenants relocated, such as in the Englewood and the Woodlawn communities. The amount of the contract between CHA and the police was as high as $13 million a year, but recently has been reduced to $6 million a year.

One of the police department’s efforts to secure CHA properties has been to install security cameras. Security cameras were purchased with $22.6 million in federal funding American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to be placed throughout CHA’s portfolio, including at all their all senior-designated properties, according to data on CHA’s website.

But tenants living in places like the Far South Side Altgeld Gardens public housing community, where there has been a spike in shootings over the past few months, questioned the utility of the security cameras and wondered if they are manned 24 hours a day. Bernadette Williams, the president of the residents’ Local Advisory Council at Altgeld, complained to CHA officials recently about the spike in crime at that public housing complex even though security cameras are installed there.

“The kids are going to wind up getting shot,” Williams declared to CHA Board Commissioners during their public meeting on October 18, 2011.

This wall contains the names of people killed at the CHA Altgeld Gardens public housing site. RJ archived 2009 photo by Mary C. Piemonte


Williams described a number of crimes at Altgeld that took place shortly before the meeting, including a burglary of the LAC office and another in which a car was riddled with bullet holes by a gunman who got away.
“Thursday, there was a truck, 3 o’clock in the afternoon shot up, with at least 50 bullets in the car,” Williams said. “Now, if they caught that on camera, why didn’t they catch the shooter?
“If they monitor the cameras, he should have been caught.”

The following month, on Nov. 6, 2011, four people were shot to death at a store in the Altgeld community.

CHA Responds
CHA spokesperson Matthew Aguilar stated in a Feb. 1 e-mail that under CHA’s contract with the police, officers “would not normally patrol” the area where the four people were shot and killed in Altgeld.
“That particular shooting did not occur at Altgeld; it was nearby. Officers assigned to Altgeld as part of the CHA/CPD IGA would not normally patrol that area.”

Former CHA interim chief Carlos Ponce, former Board chairman James Reynolds, and Commissioner Adela Cepeda listening to Bernadette Williams complain about recent shootings at the Altgeld Gardens public housing site, during a meeting on Oct. 18, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Aguilar added that CHA and the police department met regularly to discuss the safety of its properties, and said that that their security cameras are monitored around the clock.

“CHA works with Chicago Police Department to deploy additional resources to Altgeld as needed and continues to monitor cameras in hot spots, 24/7. CHA is committed to ensuring the public safety of residents within all of its residential communities. The camera initiative – along with the use of security guards and the partnership with CPD – has deterred criminal activity in developments over the past year,” Aguilar declared.

Per their contract agreement, the police are mandated to also provide the CHA with quarterly security reports on crime at CHA public housing sites as well as in areas where CHA tenants have relocated under the Plan for Transformation.

However, the CHA informed Residents’ Journal in the Feb. 1 email that they didn’t have any documented 2011 crime reports from the police.

“CHA does not yet have 2011 reports. We will contact you when available.”

You can read RJ’s ongoing investigation into public housing residents’ complaints about the security at CHA sites, and their questions about the police department’s duties at: http://wethepeoplemedia.org/uncategorized/residents-deny-security-improvements/.

You can read “Deadly Moves,” our award-winning investigation into crime in areas to where CHA tenants relocated, in our series of articles at: http://wethepeoplemedia.org/tag/August-September-2004-Issue/.

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