Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dear Cmdr. Angarone and Ald. Daley: "Where you at?"

I don't know where to begin. Abraham and I were about to enjoy another blissful Kankakee night with the rest of his Cub Scout pack, under a pelting rain, just like the night before. But a Chicago cop broke it up: the 18th District's Chris Kaporis happens to be our Cubmaster, and he had to end our second spring campout early due to severe thunderstorms. Talk about the long arm of the law; this is a novel way for a peace officer to extend his jurisdiction beyond the city limits.

Still, I wish he hadn't done that, because it forced us to spend a Saturday night on Lincoln Avenue, with our 13 neighbors -- the 13 bars who attract thousands of screaming, vomiting, urinating, brawling, vandalizing, drunk-driving "people" several nights a week. The bedlam doesn't let up until about 4:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Even spending a thunderstorm in a tent would be better. I couldn't sleep tonight in Chicago to save my life.

Cubmaster Chris, please tell me this wasn't a conspiracy from Alderman Daley's office!

I won't go into the regular report, of urinators screaming outside my window; officers yelling at citizens instead of at the drunks who assault them; and of course the magical flying garbage, since Ald. Daley insists the entire block share the one trash can I managed to squeeze out of her stingy ass several years ago. (She punished us for that by levying a special SSA tax on residents on our block. Now, we foot the bill for cleaning the street up after the bars close. See this Reader article for background.)

Anyway, I won't go into all that. You can read the blog archives and newspaper stories. But, take a look at the latest result of this administrative towing mess, through this video:

The police officer is Sgt. Egan, who came in to direct the taxi traffic (that's what the towing was supposed to be for). The video was shot this morning at 2:46 a.m., about three hours after the entire side of the street had been cleared of dozens of cars by city tow trucks. Here is one truck taking away two cars around 11 p.m.

After the police did this, causing the city to rack up over $2,000 in towing and tickets, its scorched-earth effort had a minor effect for only about half an hour.

But I noticed that not long after midnight the parked cars had already returned.

As you can see, by the time the intended taxi lane was most sorely needed, the curb parking that was supposed to have been cleared was totally full with cars again. A complete waste of time -- and guess who pays for it? The people whose cars were towed. "We're doing our best," Egan told me.

Egan is right: the cops did their best. They only have a five-hour window for towing under the provisions that Cmdr. Angarone is using. But the signs are criminally bad, innocent people are getting unfairly ticketed and towed, and it's not helping at all. But Cmdr. Angarone wants to use the temporary signs as a permanent fixture. Not a bad idea, assuming he wants his head handed to him by angry constituents.

You know, they spend so much time directing traffic on the street that the more I think about it, the more I feel that all of this attention on traffic and taxis is more of a consolation to the drunk barhoppers and the bars themselves than to community residents. After all, how is it helping them cope?

Now, like our street-cleaning signs, the chintzy paper signs are simply unfair, no matter how diligent you are about them. The ambiguity and lack of clarity of these signs is infamous for everyone but the city itself, as it rakes in millions.

The commander's instruction may go through about five people before it ends up being different on the street. The first weekend (see this post), I pointed out the obvious legal ambiguity of writing "4/2 to 4/3 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. The next week, after the commander and I spoke, he made them clearer, with "4/9-4/10 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m. AND 4/10-4/11 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m.". At least it was legally more explicit, if still a bad long-term idea. Now we're in yet a third phase of ambiguity: "4/23-4/25 9 p.m.-3:30 a.m." So, is that 4/23 9 p.m. through 4/25 3:30 a.m., or just two nights? Who knows? Theoretically, all of these tickets should be thrown out because of the ambiguities, but they won't be.

Hundreds of innocent people have been towed on this block this month alone. A few Victory Gardens theatergoers are up in arms. Restaurant patrons enjoying a late dinner didn't notice the signs and got towed. Residents of the block's largest condo association met about this. Three business owners are complaining that it is scaring away customers. And, yes, some drunks have been towed. But they are all innocent of the problems here, which were created not by them, but by the 13 bar owners who control this area -- and they aren't paying a penny for this and aren't affected one bit.

The worst part about it is that this is not solving any problems. They are caused by a combination of reckless bar owners who are overcapacity and overserving, and the fact that the police and the alderman are not handling these problems systematically. In fact, I see less and less of the one entertainment detail on this block. My guess is they are being spread too thin, having to handle other areas far away from here.

This area needs more cops, not less. It needs true crowd control (think Millennium Park and O'Hare Airport, barricades, security everywhere). We need one police or street security officer for approximately every two to three bars on the block (that makes 4 to 6, not the two that we never see anymore). We need permanent, clearly marked signs for taxi lines on both sides of the street, probably starting halfway up the block, where the bars are.

We need enforcement of the 10 a.m.-10 p.m. restaurant and bar patron bathroom access law, and at least two portajohns for the rest of the time. We could use strategically placed barricades. We need plenty of garbage cans on the block. We need bars to get warnings and shutdowns for overcrowding and overserving -- all of them do it on this block. Most of all, we need a public meeting on the bar situation here.

But these are simply things that the people on the block, and Bob and Al, the longtime officers of the 1885B police detail, have been asking for close to a decade. The alderman has done absolutely nothing. The police commanders tend to respond, invariably with unimaginative blitzes of enforcement that do nothing for a long-term solution. Pissers, bar warnings, towing, ticketing. A day later, the problem returns. Maybe, despite the millions that the mayor squeezes out of us, he just doesn't give enough to the police to do what needs to be done here. But I see attention paid in other places, so why not here?

Last night at about 3 a.m., as usual, some loud drunk was pissing right on my window (which had been kicked in last week). With his other hand he had his phone to his ear. "Where you at?" he asked his buddy. He kept yelling, "Where you at?" My son turned fitfully in his sleep.

And I find myself wondering out loud to Cmdr. Angarone and to Vi Daley: "Where you at?" Why don't you provide some real help? Why don't you listen to us? Are you both sleeping well?


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