City Officials Praise Safe Passages at Community Forum
Some would argue that elected and appointed government officials don’t attend community-based events unless it is in response to a tragic event involving media presence. However, on March 25th, 2014, police commanders (14th, 12th, and 11th district), city alderman (1st, 26th, 27th wards), and CPS officials all proactively met, without the presence of the media, to help further The Humboldt Park Youth & Safety Committee’s (HPYSC) meeting objective of making Safe Passages a better tool for getting children to and from schools.
In order to achieve this, HPYSC organized a space where Humboldt Park residents and stakeholders would be able to ask questions to Chicago Public School (CPS) representatives and Safe Passage vendors for the Humboldt Park community. The CPS representatives were as follows: Jadine Chou, Chief Safety and Security Officer; Jamal Jackson, Network Safety Manager; Gregory Sain, School Climate and Principal Support Specialist. The Safe Passage vendors were Cindy Wilder, Director of Human Resources at Prologue, Inc. and Laura Bass from Ebenezer Community Outreach.
The meeting opened with Chou’s description of the tragic killing of Fenger High School student, Derrion Albert, on September 24th of 2009. Albert’s death led to the creation of Safe Passage. Initially servicing thirty-five high schools in communities with the highest exposure to violence, Safe Passage now works with over ninety schools. This is the first year that elementary schools are part of the program. Chou described the Safe Passage strengths as a reflection of its well-trained and workers who are dedicated residents from the communities they serve.
Although Aldermen Maldonado and Moreno initially had concerns about Safe Passage, they both expressed being satisfied by the police presence, lack of incidents near schools, and their interaction with Safe Passage staff. These sentiments were echoed by Humboldt Park Police Commanders. Commander Staples of the 12th District described Safe Passage’s success by the reduction in calls for service and “stats”. Commander Valadez of the 14th District credits the reduction of incidents to a “great team approach” and communication between Safe Passage and the Police.
Chou aptly addressed questions from Humboldt Park community members. However, there are a few topics discussed that will require follow-up from HPYSC. These topics include youth from the Chicago and Pulaski corridor being pushed out from schools to violent hot spots such as the Gas station; ensuring timely background checks for Safe Passage workers; re-visiting the Safe Passage routes for Moos, Erie and José de Diego which were cited by a Bickerdike resident as having limited to no Safe Passage coverage; and strategies to improve communication with vendors.
The strength of the meeting was the presence of all invited stakeholders from the CPD, CPS, and City Council, as well as having time for these stakeholders to respond to all questions related to improving Safe Passages. The primary struggle was engaging more families to attend the meeting. As Joy Aruguete, Executive Director for Bickerdike, expressed “Public safety is everyone’s job…safer neighborhoods is not just one person or just the responsibility of the Chicago Police Department. It is everyone coming together.”
HPYSC exhibited its ability to bring together CPS officials, Safe Passage vendors, Alderman, Police Commanders, and Humboldt Park residents in a pro-active manner. However, more work must be done to engage families as their perspective and voice is core to understanding the needs and strategies to keep children safe as they travel to school.
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Article by Franklin Cosey Gay and Matthew Sweeney
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