UChicago Convenes Woodlawn Leaders for Community Safety Meeting

Participants outlined opportunities for additional collaborations with UCPD, CPD and among community organizations

Playing the roles of a convener and a resource, the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement filled a room with representatives from a dozen organizations on April 18 for its first Woodlawn Community Safety Stakeholders meeting. The groups have different missions but a shared focus on making the neighborhood a safer place, from law enforcement to community-based nonprofits to grassroots organizations that work with local youth on a first-name basis.

“We care about Woodlawn very deeply, and we’re interested in areas of shared interest where University resources can align with neighborhood interests and programs around community safety,” said Susana Vasquez, the Office of Civic Engagement's associate vice president, to start the meeting.

The event was particularly timely because in the past year—in some cases in the last few months—many organizations have adopted a slew of new initiatives and approaches to improve safety in the neighborhood. Groups that have been working in Woodlawn for years heard how they can collaborate with and build on these efforts.

For example, the University of Chicago Medicine asked for applications from community groups for its new program to help fund violence prevention, intervention or recovery programs on the South Side that will be operational this summer. Also, the University of Chicago Police Department has adopted a new community policing model, training all its officers last year in the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) program, and plans to launch a number of new youth initiatives with Woodlawn partners. 

Community-based organizations shared their priorities as well. The nonprofit Future Ties has expanded its summer youth programming for teens in Parkway Gardens and soon will have a new teen center there. Joel Hamernick of Sunshine Gospel Ministries said his organization added a mentoring program this spring as part of its violence prevention work with youth.

Preventative programs were a common theme in continuing to improve Woodlawn’s public safety environment for everyone. “We’re going to have to provide social services to these kids,” said Jeanne Clark with the West Woodlawn Coalition.

Roseanna Ander from the University of Chicago Crime Lab talked about the potential impact of the new Strategic Decision Support Center (SDSC) that opened earlier this year in the Chicago Police Department’s 3rd District, which includes Woodlawn. The Crime Lab has found a notable reduction in violent crime in neighborhoods that have used the SDSC model, which brings on-the-ground intelligence from officers together with modern data analytics and deploys resources by using technology such as ShotSpotter, a sophisticated gunshot detection system.

Crime has already been dropping in Woodlawn, though not uniformly and the trend is relatively new. However, the 3rd District has had just two homicides in 2018, and its 57 percent reduction in shootings is the highest for any precinct this year. “That’s the result of stuff like this [meeting], everyone working together,” said Gloria Hanna-Gill, commander of the 3rd District.

The gathered stakeholders also talked about how to address issues in the community that are hurdles to building a safer Woodlawn. “The trajectory is good, but the numbers are still staggering and unacceptable,” said Cortez Trotter from the Woodlawn Public Safety Alliance.

Domestic violence has been a chronic problem in the neighborhood, for instance, and Maggie Stewart from Related Property Management at Parkway Gardens said that youth who live in the complex can feel isolated from the rest of Woodlawn, including from many positive youth experiences.

The Office of Civic Engagement committed to continuing to convene Community Safety Stakeholders meetings that provide information and build relationships to more closely knit together the organizations making the community a safer place to live and work.

“Take a look around the room,” said Wendy Williams, executive director of community partnerships in the Office of Civic Engagement. “This is your safety and security village here in Woodlawn.”

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