It's a better strategy, some neighbors believe, than attending Licata's "Neighborhood Crime Summit" slated for Tuesday night, April 26. While other neighborhoods around the city have been earnestly prepping for the unprecedented city council forum by assembling crime statistics and their ideas for public-safety solutions, Miller Park--arguably one of the worst 'hot spots' in town, with Deano's, a bustling bar near 21st Avenue and E Madison Street, at the epicenter--has all but thumbed its nose at Licata's meeting.
Residents there have gone through the motions of prepping for the summit--meeting with police on April 19, for example, to fine-tune their official message for the council--but many are convinced that they'll see quicker results by fighting crime themselves. The aforementioned "sleepover," in addition to a recent 911 dial-a-thon and threats of vigilantism by a few residents, are just a few of the ways Miller Park has taken matters into its own hands.
The summit, neighbors say, isn't of much use to their longstanding problems. First of all, Miller Park residents are worried that Licata plans to abolish tough (and controversial) enforcement techniques like drug buy-busts, in favor of funding social services like drug treatment. "Don't abolish the 'drug buy-bust' program… it's all that stands between us and mayhem," neighborhood association president Andrew Taylor pleaded in an April 26 letter to the council. Cops do a bust a week along Madison, which neighbors say is the only thing keeping "brazen" drug dealers remotely in check. Second, after years of begging for help combatting the drug dealing, prostitution, and violence that plagues their neighborhood, residents are skeptical that the summit will yield tangible results.
Licata, obviously, thinks otherwise (as do plenty of other neighborhood activists, who have been flooding inboxes with excited e-mail reminders of the meeting for weeks). Licata hopes the summit will "put public safety on the front burner." The forum will also give him constituents' political support, which he'll need when the council tackles Mayor Greg Nickels' recent proposal to spend $1.7 million annually for 25 new police officers. The input council members get on Tuesday night could prompt them to tailor Nickels' legislation to better address each precinct's most pressing problems--perhaps by specifying that one precinct's allocation is in the form of a bike patrol, or attaching evaluation criteria to the money. Social services are also on the summit's agenda, as "long-term strategies" aimed at the root of crime. "We want to be smart in how we approach public safety," Licata says. "We can't just say, 'Here's 25 more cops, problem solved,' and walk away."
Licata's approach--to combat crime from two sides--seems like a smart way to address a citywide issue. Nevertheless, jaded Miller Park residents aren't holding their breath. They don't think they'll see a drop in crime along East Madison Street unless they go after it themselves. The night before Licata's summit, nearly a dozen neighbors met up at the new Starbucks cater-corner from Deano's to dial the cops on cell phones every time they eyed illegal activity on Madison (they hoped to flood the network, and make a point about the prevalence of their problems). Neighbors craned to get a better view of any suspicious activity emanating from "the crowd" that loiters on Madison's sidewalks, while a supportive police lieutenant offered advice on being a more effective 911-dialer. Meanwhile, neighbors chatted about the other proposals floating around. One guy is looking into installing surveillance cameras. More seriously, a few neighbors on 22nd Avenue have reportedly given up on calling the police, instead deciding to personally confront problems like people using drugs in front of their homes. Finally, a brand-new group--Madison and Denny Community Action Program, or MADCAP--has emerged in the past few months to deal specifically with the neighborhood's nuisances in "the war zone."
Miller Park residents aren't the only ones who are irritated with Licata's approach. Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske (and by extension, the mayor's office) reportedly took issue with Licata's plan to possibly tinker with the cop funding. Kerlikowske, who was perhaps initially miffed that the council was thinking about micromanaging police money, planned to attend the forum. Nickels, for his part, will not be at the forum. But it also isn't hard to imagine the mayor getting annoyed at anyone fussing with his basic "more cops" idea.