CHICAGO — In no fewer than three recent newsletters, freshman Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) assured his constituents that Chicago police leaders had assured him of their commitment to providing a consistent, steady police presence in their Lincoln Park ward.
So, given those assurances from on high, why is it that a third of the local police district’s beat cars were not on patrol when five people were shot outside Lincoln Park Zoo on Saturday morning? The unit that should have been patrolling the area outside the zoo was one of the cars not in service.
Within hours of the shooting, Knudsen issued a joint letter with Illinois State Rep. Margaret Croke. In it, they again assured residents that CPD leaders “have committed to consistently patrol this area.”
Neither Knudsen nor Croke replied to messages seeking their input for this story.
After the North Avenue Beach incident, Knudsen, said he had spoken with 18th District Commander Jon Hein.
“Our police are sending additional patrol vehicles and tactical missions to the area,” the alderman wrote to his constituents.
A week later, following the DePaul area robberies, Knudsen said Hein, who had since been promoted to deputy chief, “reinforced his commitment to a physical police presence in our Ward.”
Two days later, CWBChicago reported the 18th District didn’t have a single beat car assigned to most of Knudsen’s ward for a recent night shift.
This week, three days before the shooting, Knudsen said he had spoken with new 18th District Commander Michael Barz.
“[T]he Commander and I discussed a shared belief in community policing. In particular, a strategy of community policing can bring more consistent police patrol to our local beats in order to both deter and solve crimes more effectively,” Knudsen wrote.
So, what did Knudsen and Croke tell their concerned constituents after Saturday’s shooting?
“We have spoken with Commander Barz and Deputy Chief Hein of the Chicago Police Department … They have committed to consistently patrol this area…”
When those five people were shot in the 1900 block of North Stockton around 4:40 a.m., no cars were assigned to patrol the local police beat. Inside the yellow crime scene tape that officers draped between thick tree trunks and vehicle side view mirrors, liquor bottles and plastic cups dotted the ground.
“The shooting occurred after a group, which had been drinking, gathered on the street and a fight to [sic] broke out,” Knudsen and Croke wrote, calling the shooting “reckless behavior.”
In CPD slang, the unit that should have patrolled Stockton Drive that night was a “down car.”
The neighboring beat to the south, 1824, was also not on duty at the time of the shooting. It was unclear if the car was “down” all night or if the unit ended patrol early to enjoy accrued comp time.
By the way, that’s a common CPD sleight-of-hand. If you look at the shift’s schedule, the beat car will appear to be staffed, even though the officers went home.
Beat 1812, responsible for part of the neighborhood west of the zoo, was on duty at the time of the shooting. But it was assigned to be the district’s prisoner transport unit for the night. That’s because the squadrol, or “paddy wagon,” was also a “down car” for the night.
Beat 1813, responsible for the other part of the neighborhood west of the zoo, was also on duty. But two sources said CPD leadership ordered that unit to spend the night towing cars in River North rather than patrolling its beat.
Speaking of River North, one of its cars, Beat 1832, was also “down.”
Occasionally, Chicago police brass and politicians will speak in platitudes about “beat integrity.” That’s a fancy way of saying they think it’s essential for neighborhoods to have a dedicated beat car on patrol.
“This focus on beat integrity allows police and community to more closely monitor the problems on their beats, and to develop more effective solutions to those problems,” says CPD’s website.
For example, if a group is drinking and partying outside Lincoln Park Zoo at 4:40 a.m. on a Saturday, the beat car might ask those folks to move along. After all, alcohol is not permitted on park property, so…
Or, the beat car might decide to keep an eye on the group, making their presence known — giving them, in another CPD vocabulary term, “special attention.” The beat car could also inform the district’s camera surveillance room about the issue, and they could keep an eye on the group remotely.
None of that happened on Saturday morning because 1814 didn’t have a beat car.
In Chicago, “beat integrity” is pie in the sky — a media talking point, a dream of what should be, not what is.
This all raises a few questions.
Why are Lincoln Park’s beat cars being “downed” or assigned to other tasks when the 18th District’s commander and its former commander—now a deputy chief—are apparently telling the alderman they’re committed to patrolling his ward and maintaining a presence?
Why does the alderman keep repeating what he has been told even when it’s obviously not being done?
In June 2019, the month after Lori Lightfoot became mayor, 389 cops staffed the 18th District. There are 286 officers in the district this month, according to the Chicago Office of Inspector General. That’s a 26% haircut.
During the same time, staffing in the Town Hall (19th) District, which patrols the north end of Knudsen’s ward, dropped 27%.
Overall, the Chicago Police Department has 11,704 officers this month, down 16 from May and down more than 11% in four years. The city has loosened hiring standards, hoping to draw more recruits. And CPD brass and Lightfoot frequently claimed that the police academy was churning out newly-minted cops to replenish the ranks.
Despite those efforts, according to the OIG, CPD’s force has declined by six officers since December.
Here is the full text of the letter Knudsen and Croke distributed on Saturday.
June 17, 2023
RE: Joint Statement from Representative Margaret Croke and Alderman Timmy Knudsen
Last night and into early this morning, a group of people engaged in reckless behavior leading to an altercation ending in gunfire. At approximately 4:40 am, five individuals were shot and injured on the 1900 block of N Stockton Drive near the Lincoln Park Zoo. The shooting occurred after a group, which had been drinking, gathered on the street and a fight to broke out. At this time, police are still investigating, and when more details become publicly available we will work with our partners in law enforcement to make sure the community is informed. We encourage anyone with additional information or camera footage to share to call Area 3 detectives at 312-744-8263 so those responsible can be held accountable for their actions.
Let us be clear: this type of violence is unacceptable in our city and as elected officials, we will work to ensure there is a rapid response to deter this from happening again.
We have spoken with Commander Barz and Deputy Chief Hein of the Chicago Police Department to receive updates on this incident. They have committed to consistently patrol this area and our offices are looking into reinstating parking restrictions in strategic places and times at the request of the police.
As your elected officials, nothing is more important to us than the safety of our residents and our community. We are deeply disturbed by this news and will continue to stay in close contact with CPD on updates about this case and to work together to keep our neighborhoods safe.
In the coming weeks, we will share additional community events focused on public safety, including opportunities for residents to meet our new 18th District Commander Michael Barz.
Yours in service,
Alderman Timmy Knudsen
Representative Margaret Croke