WEST ROGERS PARK — After a series of attacks and anti-Semitic threats, Jewish families in West Rogers Park have lined up their own security force of off-duty Chicago police officers to patrol the neighborhood.
But the neighborhood’s top police officers are unhappy about the move, saying they don’t want residents to get a false sense of security.
The armed officers set up outside Jewish institutions and use personal cars to drive through a 16-block chunk of West Rogers Park during the weekly Sabbath and holidays when the Orthodox community members typically don’t carry phones or drive.
Resident David Kamish, 41, organized the patrols and collects $25 a month from more than 25 families to pay the officers. The project’s budget is currently $800 a month and goes exclusively to pay off-duty officers assigned to the Rogers Park Police District, he said.
“The police officers are grossly underpaid and certainly under-appreciated,” Kamish said. “And we just want to continue working with them and being appreciative of their efforts — whether it be off duty or on duty.”
The patrols caught the eye of the Chicago Police Department, which is tasked with patrolling the whole neighborhood and keeping its residents safe.
District Cmdr. Roberto Nieves hosted a special CAPS meeting with Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) Tuesday night to address the patrols, which began two weeks ago.
“It was brought to our attention there was a group of citizens in the area that don’t feel the police are serving the community the best we can,” said Sgt. Shawn Sisk, who leads the district’s community policing office. “We can’t stop that from happening; however, we’re not going to support it. We don’t want that to send a false sense of security to the neighborhood.”
But resident Andrew Glatz said the private patrols were not meant as an affront to the police department, but rather a complement. He said the trained officers know what to look for when out on patrol.
“Given the cutbacks … we just felt it was imperative to us to give extra eyes and ears to the police,” Glatz said, comparing the move to patients at “wonderful hospitals” who might hire private nurses.
Glatz said the patrols were set up after a series of attacks by Islamic terrorists in France, but stressed the patrols were “preemptive — it’s not being reactive.”
However, Sgt. Sisk at the meeting mentioned a robbery and threats received by Jewish institutions last month.
On April 19, two people were robbed at gunpoint about 1:40 a.m. in the 3000 block of West Jerome Avenue, he said. The couple was walking from a nearby party when a black SUV pulled up and a man with a gun demanded their belongings.
The incident is under investigation, Sisk said.
On April 27, a synagogue on Morse Avenue and the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center on Touhy Avenue — where the Tuesday meeting was held — received suspicious letters filled with baking soda, according to Sisk.
Three other Jewish organizations in the suburbs also received letters, and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were investigating, he said.
“Luckily it was a hoax, but what it did do was invoke a sense of fear, and that’s what they’re trying to do,” Sisk said. “And then that fear can overcome you like a tidal wave — we don’t want to see fear overcome this community.”
Glatz said those letters contained notes with Arabic writing and an image of what appeared to be an Islamic radical fighter.
“As events in this world continue to quickly spiral out of control, we are becoming more and more concerned and more vigilant,” he said.
In December, anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on the garage of Congregation Atereth Yehoshua in the 2900 block of West Touhy Avenue.
Rabbi Yaacov Robinson, who leads synagogue Beis Medrash Mikor Hachaim, said many of his congregants are involved in organizing the extra patrols.
“They believe in the cause, and they’re making it happen,” he said.
Robinson said he hasn’t come out in support or opposition to the patrols yet, but does not fault police in the neighborhood. But, he said, “the world itself is more dangerous than it used to be,” referencing Islamic group ISIS and recent terrorist attacks.
But the police — in one of the safest districts in the city — implored residents to stop the patrols.
Richard Concaildi, the CAPS beat facilitator for the area, encouraged residents to rely on 911 when they feel unsafe or witness suspicious behavior.
Some Jewish attendees at the meeting said they can feel helpless during Sabbath, when their religion forbids them from using a phone unless their lives are in danger.
“I look at this as not a problem, but as a challenge,” Concaildi said, suggesting Jews find a non-Jewish person nearby their homes to whom they can go to for help.
Cmdr. Nieves said the security of the community “involves, cooperation, collaboration and vigilance.”
“Never be afraid to reach out and ask for help — and make contact,” he said.