Why is violence down in Rogers Park?

Why is violence down in Rogers Park? FOX 32 takes a closer look

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

FOX 32 previously reported about a big drop in murder in the North Side Rogers Park Police District. Chicago police statistics show that, since 1990, homicide's declined by 71% in the 24th District.

Several neighborhood activists told us, "If you want to see why violence is down in Rogers Park, go talk to B.J. Thomas."

So, we did.

The neighborhood is not like it used to be in the late 1980s and early 1990s on the 7500 block of North Seeley. It's now quiet where retail store manager B.J. Thomas and his wife raised their daughters. He had to protect them from a local street gang that one night shot a competing drug dealer right at the front door of the family's four-flat.

"They were running down the street this way shooting," Thomas says. "And one guy got shot, kinda hooked a right, fell down in front of our door here. We called an ambulance and got him to a hospital."

Thomas said gang bangers controlled the building directly across the street from his, selling guns and sex, in addition to drugs. Enraged by how brazen they were, Thomas decided to rally other neighbors to take back the night.

"I can't tell you how much sleep I lost," he says. "I mean, I was out here 3-4-5 o'clock in the morning, cause the gangs were out here dealing drugs, making all kinds of noise. I couldn't sleep, got dressed, stood in front of my building. My neighbor got dressed, stood in front of his building. You know, we had backup in the house. Our wives would call the police."

The first phone calls to police, though, didn't go well, Thomas said, with several cops suggesting, if he wanted his family to be safe, he ought to move.

"I think those cops have kinda evolved out of the system. I don't see 'em," Thomas explains. "They've retired. Now we have some younger police on the street. I've seen a big change in the way the police approach the average citizen in the neighborhood."

Thomas also gave credit to the neighborhood's church-based youth programs that he said have expanded their outreach to youngsters who otherwise might get into trouble.

"It's not all about religion. It's all about, you know, basically people being people and looking out for one another. I think religion fosters that," Thomas says.

Thomas and many others we talked to in the 24th Police District said the real reason the number of homicides dropped by 71% over the last quarter-century is that thousands of residents each did their part.

Some critics, though, took issue with our previous story. A former 49th Ward aldermanic candidate suggested fewer are dying of gunshots because of better trauma care.

Donald Gordon wrote: "Let's not factor out major advances in medicine over the last 25 years. St. Francis Hospital in Evanston deserves recognition for all the work they have done in keeping these mutts alive."

Jonathan Faulkner made the same point, adding: "Does Fox even conduct unbiased reporting? I challenge you to do some real reporting..."

The University of Chicago researcher, upon whose crime analysis we based the original story on, said he understands why some may not believe violence has actually declined by about 50% citywide.

"There is good news," Daniel Hertz says. "It's good news for the city as a whole, that homicide is down about 50% and on the North Side all along the lakefront, crime is way down. The North Side is about as safe as Toronto. It's safer than New York City."

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