On Feb. 20, residents and business owners of the 23rd Police District gathered in response to what audience members and the group Belmont Harbor Neighbors described as a recent crime surge in the area. Many present blamed Howard Brown's Broadway Youth Center ( BYC ) , although there hasn't been any proof that supports that theory.
The main concern was the neighborhood near the corner of Belmont and Broadway, where acid etchings, graffiti spraying, break-ins and other crimes have occurred. Many at the meeting voiced particular concern over four recent break-ins at the Lakeshore Theater, which neighbors BYC. Although local police say there is no proof, many business owners and residents at the meeting are making connections between the criminal activity at the theater and BYC, which helps LGBT youth, predominantly.
BYC has been located at 3179 N. Broadway for some time.
Howard Brown Health Center President and CEO Michael Cook told Windy City Times he is very concerned about the safety of the area, especially in order to protect the center's young clientele. 'We share their concern about safety,' Cook said. 'But I have no more reason to think that [ the crimes ] are from clients of ours, than patrons of Chipotle or patrons of Walgreens. … I'm just as interested as anyone in finding these people and prosecuting them.'
At the core of the meeting, Belmont Harbor Neighbors—one of the civic organizations that makes up the Lake View Citizens' Council—discussed whether or not the organization should support a smaller version of the police camera, possibly funded by 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney's office, at the corner of Belmont and Broadway. To the dismay of many in the audience, the organization ( after heated discussion ) voted against it, mainly because of the negative connotations attached with the flashing blue-light cameras typically placed in high-crime areas of the city.
Despite concern over a reported 20 various crimes in the past three weeks, 23rd District police say that reported crime in that area is actually down, and a request for a police camera in that area would not be a top priority. Instead, police urged community members and businesses to come to beat meetings and become more proactive, as well as find other possible solutions to reducing crime in the neighborhood.
BYC was frequently brought up in the discussion. Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, represented many in the room who felt that there is a connection between the crimes against the theater and the center, despite a lack of proof. 'We do know crime has gone up since the center has come into town,' Martino said. '… It had to come from inside the center.'
However, local police and the alderman's office, defended BYC.
'It doesn't matter if the youth center is there; the youth are going to come here because Belmont and Broadway is a vibrant area,' said 23rd District Commander Gary Yamashiroya. 'We need a youth center to get the youth—the good youth—off the streets so we can focus on the bad ones.'
The commander, as well as Bennett Lawson of Tunney's office, told those present that youth come to the area because it is exciting, and youth feel safer in the area.
A meeting between the theater, BYC, the alderman's office and police will take place in the beginning of March. According to Lawson, so far, there has not been any communication between the theater and the youth center.
'We don't have any proof it is coming from [ BYC ] ,' said 23rd District Sgt. Carolyn Kujawa. 'But we are just sitting down and talking and problem solving together; its not accusatory,' she continued. She hopes that a meeting will result in some headway and clear up any questions. So far, police have worked with the theater's owners to help make progress in regards to the building's security.