In Chicago and most major cities across the nation, there has been street crime almost as long as there have been streets.
The challenge of crime to the quality of life in Chicago's neighborhoods varies from place to place; yet it is ongoing everywhere and requires a steady and unwavering commitment by the large, law-abiding majority to work with police to continuously thwart the small, law-breaking minority.
|The Shilneys, ready to roll, check their police scanner.
In the Southwest Side's Clearing neighborhood, that commitment has been evident for over 15 years in the form of the Clearing Night Force Neighborhood Watch Group.
The Night Force was created in the wake of a double homicide that shook the community in 1995. Two local teenage girls were shot and killed when the parked van they were sitting in was fired upon in a battle over gang turf. (A monument to those girls can be found in the southeast corner of Hale Park.)
Longtime Clearing resident Mary Shilney recalls the feeling of Clearing neighbors at the time was, “We’ve got to do something.”
The "something" was the Clearing Night Force---formed in 1996 with important guidance from Chicago Police and others.
All these years later, the group is still going strong, with 25 active members who make it a point to keep up on what’s going on in the Clearing neighborhood. Four founding members, including Shilney, her husband Chuck, Judy Ollry and former Clearing Branch Head Librarian Linda Dougherty, still patrol monthly---up and down local streets, alleys and more---and do their part to prevent crime and make the community a better place for all.
Night Force members take to the streets and alleys and make note of what city services are needed to make Clearing a safer, better looking neighborhood. For example, garbage cans without lids attract rodents. Overgrown bushes make a perfect hiding place for those who don’t wish to be seen. Street and alley lights that have burned out or are not turned on are also a problem. And of course, Night Force members also focus on identifying and promptly eradicating graffiti---gang graffiti as well as ordinary "tagger" graffiti.
“Community residents rely on us,” Shilney observes.
The group’s mission also includes reducing gang activity and other suspicious activity
“There are certain addresses, provided by our Beat Officers, that we watch closely,” she adds.
All reports are turned into a Night Force team leader who makes sure they are seen by the correct Ward agencies.
The group's achievements are many: successful revokation of the liquor licenses of several "bad apple" businesses, ongoing and successful removal of graffiti throughout the community, demolition of an abandoned factory on 60th Street that had deteriorated into an illegal drinking/drugs/graffiti party house for local teenagers, and more.
“There are now beautiful new homes sitting on the site, which improves the appearance of the area and helps the city’s tax base,” Shilney notes.
Night Force members also maintain close contact with Belt Railway Police to devise and deploy strategies to prevent local teens from using railroad tracks and siding “as their private domain---building bonfires, drinking and taking drugs.”
Some Clearing Night Force members also volunteer their time as court advocates, working in groups to attend select criminal trials, support local crime victims and beat officers, and impress upon judges the Clearing neighborhood's ongoing unity and insistence upon a firm and consistent administration of justice.
So successful is the Night Force that it is emulated by others, most notably the Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch (GRNW). "We wouldn't be the success we are today if the Clearing Night Force hadn't shown us how to do it and help us get started," said GRNW President Al Cacciottolo at a recent meeting. "We will always be grateful to our friends in Clearing."
Night Force meetings are held monthly, in conjunction with the Chicago Police CAPS Beat 812 meeting---to learn the latest crime statistics and better coordinate efforts with law enforcement.
All Clearing residents are welcome to attend and/or join the watch group. To learn details about the May meeting, call the Chicago Police Eighth District's Community Policing Office at 312-747-8724.
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