A group that represents businesses in Boystown may pull the plug on its long-time armed security patrol as attitudes toward policing change and the Chicago Police Department itself suggests better ways for it to spend money, according to a recent presentation.
The Northalsted Business Alliance (NBA), which also oversees a tax-payer funded agency to promote business activity in the Boystown area, has paid up to $82,000 a year for armed patrols along the Halsted Street bar strip on warm-weather weekends since at least 2011.
But the group last year decided to end its relationship with long-time contractor Walsh Security after the company’s owner, now-retired Chicago cop Thomas Walsh, came under fire for a race-fueled off-duty incident involving a Black doorman inside a Boystown bar.
Now, the NBA may pull the plug on armed security altogether. Options under consideration include creating a group of unarmed “ambassadors,” limiting armed patrols to a couple of early-morning hours, and spending money on improved lighting and security cameras.
“At this time, we are reviewing all our options and have not ruled any options out yet,” Lake Alen, the Acting Executive Director of Special Service Agency #18 (SSA), said this week.
But during the SSA’s April 14 meeting, speakers made it clear that changes may be on the way.
Top-ranking officers from the Chicago Police Department’s 19th District in Lakeview “advised us not to have any [security] for a variety of reasons,” said Ramesh Ariyanayakam, president of NBA and owner of Kit Kat Lounge. CPD suggested the groups’ money would be better spent by improving lighting in alleys and installing more security cameras on the public way, he said.
Speaking of large groups that sometimes gather and create disturbances on Halsted Street during nighttime hours, Roscoe’s Tavern owner Jim Ludwig said, “in our communications with the [CPD] commander, this is a police matter. It is on the street. It’s predictable. It should be deployed resources from the police department.” Ludwig is also president of the Northalsted SSA.
Many people at the meeting expressed interest in creating an “ambassador” program similar to a program that’s active along State Street in the Loop. There, workers walk the street, answer questions from passers-by, and help with issues like homeless people who may need assistance.
One speaker called the Loop program “phenomenal” but noted that creating a similar operation in Boystown would require finding “the type of ambassadors our neighborhood would need.”
“When people say ‘defund the police,’ when people say all these things that sound, you know, irrational to a group trying to keep businesses safe, [an ambassador program is] exactly what would work,” another attendee said. “It’s a very different task” from armed security.
One member of the group made a lengthy presentation about security options that were under consideration. The speaker is not clearly identified by name on an audio recording of the meeting and Alen, the SSA’s acting executive director, said he couldn’t remember who the speaker was.
“Everyone’s been to a mall, and there’s a mall cop, and you’re like, ‘OK, you’re a mall cop. Calm down,’” another presenter said. “and there’s definitely a liability of hiring a security officer and that particular security officer having a power problem thinking they’re more than the plastic badge they have on — because they’re not a police officer.”
The presenter said moving away from armed security might be a good idea given “everything that’s going on in the wake of protests and whatnot.” The police said a security force could create aggression rather than be a deterrent on the street, he continued.
“As a commissioner,” he continued, “I would be much more keen on doing things to make the area more safe than providing more people who could be considered adversarial. I think we want to be welcoming.”
In the end, the presenter said four options are being consider for security in the area:
- creating an ambassador-style program
- creating a rebate program to help bars fund additional internal security staff
- hiring a minimal security presence during a limited time
- organizing a group purchase of security staff that businesses would pay for
Speakers generally agreed that they would rather use taxpayer money and the NBA’s funds to promote the many businesses that operate during the day and evening hours than to provide high-priced security for a small number of businesses that operate overnight — a phenomenon one speaker called “the 3 a.m. problem.”
“If it’s so dangerous that they don’t want to be open, they can not be open,” a speaker said. “Or they can foot the bill for it.”
Meanwhile, Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, said two SSAs that her group oversees for the city will continue to provide armed and unarmed security. The Lakeview East SSAs cover Clark Street in Wrigleyville as well as stretches of Belmont and Broadway that are adjacent to Boystown.
The Chicago Police Department did not respond to an emailed inquiry regarding any recommendations it made to the NBA and SSA members.