Loitering with a purpose

  • Roger Park Positive Loitering President John Warner talks with a concerned citizen during one of the group's regular loitering events.
Roger Park Positive Loitering President John Warner talks with a concerned…
May 09, 2012|By Taylor Ervin, RedEye

After a string of violent shootings near the intersection of Pratt and Ashland echoed through Rogers Park last September, local resident John Warner decided something had to be done to curb violence in a neighborhood plagued by gang activity and open air drug markets.

In September 2011, Warner put out a call on Everyblock.com petitioning his peers to occupy the neighborhood and it turned out he wasn't the only one who felt compelled to action. A few weeks later, the Rogers Park Positive Loitering group was formed.

The group meets several times a month in areas of suspected gang activity to deter gang activity. Most recently, the group met April 29 to hold a neighborhood barbecue on the street corner, toss around a frisbee and just hang out to make their presence known.

"We target high crime areas where gangs and drug dealers do business and we create peaceful distractions to these activities," Warner said. "We let them know that we are here and they get the message and they do usually move."

Warner and his crew of about 20 residents works directly with the local Chicago Police District 24, which provides an escort during the group's weekly three-hour-long neighborhood patrols. Since September, the group has been effective in evicting two alleged drug dealers from their homes, according to District 24 Police Commander James Roussell.

Roussell said the majority of the violence in the neighborhood, however, does not pose a direct threat to most of the  residents. Intra-gang power struggles frequently leave blood running in the streets of Rogers Park as gang bangers jockey for position within the complicated gang hierarchy.

Positive Loitering Rogers Park hopes to stop gang activity, but they recognize that a solution will not happen overnight, Warner said.

People should not be afraid to leave their homes, but at the same time you don't want vigilante justice Roussell said. He thinks that Positive Loitering Rogers Park occupies a nice middle ground between those extremes.

"I think [postivite loitering] is effective on a whole bunch of different levels. On the most important level we have a whole bunch of citizens communicating with each other," Roussell said. "That means we have a much more comprehensive reporting system going on."

In order to create systematic change and eliminate gang activity in the neighborhood, Roussell said the police will need to collaborate with other agencies and organizations in the neighborhood. He thinks positive loitering is a step in that direction.

"We are still looking for a more holistic way of mediating [gang crime]. These are not all law enforcement problems," Roussell said "If the community has a drug addiction problem, the police aren't going to solve that, but we can work in partnership to at least address it and identify the areas where we can do a better job."

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