Sun-Times file

The Chicago Police Department increased its nightly police presence in River North last weekend after a recent uptick in violent crime prompted an outcry from community leaders, residents and business owners.

The Chicago Police Department increased its nightly police presence in River North last weekend after a recent uptick in violent crime prompted an outcry from community leaders, residents and business owners.

Deputy Chief Mike Barz announced the new initiative Wednesday afternoon during a monthly Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meeting for the 18th District, adding that people in the area most likely noticed the additional foot patrols in the bustling entertainment corridor.

“This is going to be a permanent presence,” Barz told the crowd of a few dozen at Moe’s Cantina in River North. “I know that there’s a viral video, there was a shooting, and then they ask us, ‘Oh yeah, you’re here and you’re gone.’ Well, I’m here to tell you we’re not gonna be gone.”

Newly appointed 18th District Cmdr. Jon Hein said the new approach to combat crime in the area is data-driven. He declined to say how many additional officers were being deployed to River North during the weekends but noted that 76 vehicles have been towed on Hubbard Street and police have arrested 10 people and recovered five guns so far this month.

“Many business owners called me and emailed me and told me that they were so excited, so happy, they saw a change,” said Sam Sanchez, chairman of Illinois Restaurant Association and owner of Moe’s Cantina. “… Because it is a crisis.”

Daniel Alonso, of Bonhomme Hospitality, which owns nightclubs like Celeste and Disco, said this is the most violent crime he’s seen in the area in years.

“You can draw a line from when COVID restrictions opened up for indoor dining and whatnot; as that opened up, this neighborhood became very popular as it has historically been one of Chicago’s premier dining and entertainment districts, and with that came a new wave of crime and menace that you’ve not felt in the past,” Alonso said. “And of course, that concerns all of us.”

Two killings occurred last month in the 18th District, compared to zero from the same time period last year, according to police data. That includes the fatal afternoon stabbing of a bank teller at a River North branch.

Overall, however, murders have fallen 33% in the district since this year, records show.

But shootings have increased this year by 21%, up from 24 to 29. Sexual assaults and motor vehicle thefts are on the rise, too, records show.

Last week, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) emailed Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressing “extreme frustration and concern” with the lack of police resources downtown amidst a spike in violent crime. The alderman also sent a note to Chicago Police Supt. David Brown asking for more foot patrols in “hotspot” crime locations.

Reilly, who had someone represent his office at Wednesday’s CAPS meeting as he attending a meeting with Lightfoot, didn’t return the Sun-Times’ request for comment Wednesday.

Several business owners and residents see increasing police visibility in the area as a step in the right direction.

“I’m very hopeful, not only that we’re excited, we’re happy; we’re looking forward [to getting to a] point we’re able to walk out to their cars and go home and walk to the parking lot and feel safe,” Sanchez said. “It’s a testament that what the police does works.”

However, some believe more needs to be done to curb violence.

“This is a massive issue that really requires not just one good weekend but a purposeful, and constant response from all departments of the city,” Alonso said.

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